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    Portable Electronics Overuse
    Small Devices Can Cause Big Injuries

    Handheld electronics continue to grow in popularity, though heavy use of these devices may cause or irritate carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other ailments of the hand, wrist and thumb.

    Excessive use of the thumb to manipulate the scroll wheel on small personal music devices or for text messaging on phones and other text messaging devices can lead to sore wrists and thumbs and has led to the popular term “Blackberry thumb.”

    Handheld electronics may require prolonged grips, repetitive motion on small buttons and awkward wrist movements. This combination can lead to an increased susceptibility to hand, wrist and arm ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

    Many handheld electronics users spend hours on these small electronics every day, responding to e-mails and spooling through music lists and address books. These devices are immensely popular and are getting smaller, with even more features that encourage heavy, extended use. However, there are many preventive measures you can take to help prevent injury and strain:

    • If you feel pain during the activity, stop.
      Pain is one of the ways your body lets you know that you are overextending a particular muscle group.

    • Use a neutral grip when holding the device.
      A neutral grip is when the wrist is straight, not bent in any direction. It will allow for wrist motion in a plane where more motion is available in the wrist.

    • Take a break every few minutes or switch to another activity.
      Overuse of repetitive motions, such as pressing buttons, can cause tendonitis of the elbow or lead to carpal tunnel syndrome (tendon or nerve irritation).

    • If possible, place pillows in your lap and rest arms on pillows or use the device supported on a desk or tabletop.
      This will allow you to keep your head in a more upright position and therefore decrease neck strain. The pillows or desk will help support the arms so they do not have to be held up in the air.

    • Sit in an appropriate chair.
      Look for a chair that allows you to put your feet comfortably on the floor and also provides good back support.

    • Watch your posture.
      Many people strain their elbows and wrists by leaning or slouching for long periods of time while handling small devices. Be sure to sit up straight.

    • Switch hands.
      Switch hands frequently and vary the use of your fingers. This will reduce fatigue and allow your hand and fingers to rest.

    • Look away.
      Frequently look away from the screen and focus on a distant object to help reduce eye fatigue.

    • Take stretch breaks.
      Stretch before, during and after your use of handheld electronics to help reduce the risk of injuries when using handheld electronics.
      Stretches for "Techies"

    Additionally, injuries can be reduced by properly warming up the hands, wrists and arms before using handheld devices. Doing so reduces the risk of injury just like it does for any exercise routine.

    Pay attention to your hands and arms when using these devices. Stiffness, discomfort and soreness are all signs that you need to change your routine. You can make simple changes and be much more comfortable and healthy as you use handheld electronics.

    Professional hand therapists are highly specialized physical or occupational therapists with expertise in the delicate and essential functions of the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders.

    Call 444-5178 for more information about hand therapy at Rhode Island Hospital.

    Source: American Society of Hand Therapists