So-called Blackberry Thumb did not emerge with the introduction of the smartphone. In fact, repetitive strain injuries, which are grouped under repetitive motion disorders by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, are common among assembly line workers and seamstresses. Anyone who engages in the same action day in and day out, whether they are gardening or lifting a baby out of a crib, can hurt his or her thumb or wrist.

What are repetitive strain injuries?

Repetitive strain injury is the umbrella term for pain and swelling, often around a joint, tied to repetitive physical action. This includes well-known aliments like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and tendonitis. General symptoms include pain, numbness, throbbing, tightness or a dull ache in one concentrated area. De Quervain’s disease, also known as De Quervain’s tendinitis or washerwoman’s sprain, is a type of repetitive strain injury that affects the two tendons that control the thumb. According to an article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, hyperextension and awkward positioning cause the tendons at the base to become inflamed. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but some smartphone and tablet users are feeling the burn, and not in a good way.

De Quervain’s disease can be diagnosed through the Finkelstein test, which you can do on your own. Make a fist and tuck your thumb inside. Bend your wrist toward your pinky finger. Pain by your thumb indicates de Quervain’s tendinitis. See your doctor is you believe your condition is more serious.

Treatment and prevention

If you have trouble gripping items and feel a tingle or pain in your thumbs or wrists when you are typing, you might have some kind of repetitive strain injury. Effective treatment may hinge on the question what will be more painful: cutting down on your smartphone use or the pain in your thumb? Rest should be one of your first steps to handle a RSI. Do your best to avoid actions that hurt your hand. Take breaks from texting and typing during the day to stretch your hands and fingers. Ice the swollen area, or try taking anti-inflammatory medicines to help the pain. Find a splint to keep your wrist and thumb in the proper position. Cortisone injections and surgery may be employed in severe cases.

To prevent repetitive strain injuries, practice good posture when you text and type. Keep your head and shoulders back, as this will also help prevent upper body strains and pains. Try calling people instead of texting them if you can. If your Blackberry Thumb is further aggravated at work, figure out ways to make your desk more comfortable. Adjust your chair so your wrists are supported.

Do your best to cut back on key strokes. Make text messages as short as possible. Avoid play games or using your thumbs while using your phone. Try to texting or typing with other fingers. Look into autotext apps and options. Regular exercise, stretching and strengthening can be beneficial. A strong core will help improve your posture. Your doctor may suggest that you see a physical or occupational therapist. You can also try getting a massage to release tension in your body and increase circulation.