“Smartphone Thumb” Is Plaguing More People, Doctors Say

MINNEAPOLIS (CBS NEWS) – A condition that doctors used to only see in factory workers is becoming more widespread.

The pain that comes from the repetitive movements of texting has been dubbed “smartphone thumb” by doctors.

It’s actually tendinitis, when the tendon that bends and flexes the thumb becomes inflamed. More and more people are complaining about this type of pain in their thumb each year, say doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

“My phone is a huge part of my life,” Scott Seehusen told CBS Minnesota recently as he sat alone with his smartphone at a picnic table by Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis.

“I do everything from texting to emails, social media. Everything,” he said.

Dr. Kristin Zhao, a biomedical engineer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, explained what might be happening inside the hand to cause “smartphone thumb.”

“One of the hypotheses is that the joints get loose and lax, and because of that, the bones kind of move differently than they would in a normal situation,” said Zhao.

Zhao and a team of colleagues have been studying “smartphone thumb” for the last seven years. She says the movements we require our thumbs to make as we hold our phones are awkward.

“It’s also a movement that requires some force through the thumbs. So when you press on your phone, you know, you’re interacting with your phone. It’s not just free movement in space,” she said.

Mayo Clinic researchers began using a dynamic imaging technique in 2010 to watch the bones of a healthy patient move so they could document what’s normal and compare it with what’s not.

“Our hypothesis is that abnormal motion of bones in the thumb could be causing pain onset and eventual osteoarthritis,” Zhao said.

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