Aussie physios seeing jump in thumb injuries from excessive mobile phone use

Melissa IariaNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Regional Media

Doom scrolling on mobile phones has rocketed since the arrival of Covid-19, which has brought with it an increase in thumb injuries.

Australian physios report seeing a jump in people presenting with sore thumbs and other hand injuries from overusing their devices.

“There is most definitely an increase in thumb pain in clients that we see in private practice from excessive scrolling on phones, no doubt about it,” Melbourne physio and hand therapist Karen Fitt said.

“Since Covid hit, time on phones has increased by 50 per cent or more and that leads to a commensurate increase in some pain and injuries. And definitely, that’s what we see in the clinic.”

Scrolling through before they sleep
Camera IconMindless scrolling has led more people to develop thumb injuries, experts say. Istock Credit: istock

Ms Fitt said the problem was caused because the tendons around the thumb were working in an abnormal way.

“If you think about how most people would hold their phone, and they just flick up with their thumb, there’s two problems with that,” she said.

“It’s not a normal movement that we would make and so that tendon isn’t really designed to work in a repetitive, straightening up motion. You’re overloading that tendon and asking it to do something that it doesn’t normally do.

“The other problem with it is that it’s a very isolated movement – the rest of the arm and the wrist all stays quite stationary, and the whole movement just comes from one or two little joints in the thumb.

“Those two things together lead to irritation, inflammation, aggravation of the tendons around the thumb that are working in an abnormal way, and also irritation of the joint itself, because there might be a pre-existing bit of arthritis in that joint, or it’s just not used to that level of repetitive movement.

“So we see injuries to the joint and also to the tendons.”

Overuse injuries were more common in those aged over 40, Melbourne hand therapist Karen Fitt said.
Camera IconOveruse injuries were more common in those aged over 40, Melbourne hand therapist Karen Fitt said. Credit: News Regional Media

While scrolling on a mobile phone could cause problems for the thumb, doing it on a desktop computer could also cause problems in the index finger.

“You often get a tendinitis in your index finger from scrolling when you’re on a desktop,” Ms Fitt said.

People aged from 40 were more likely to suffer from overuse injuries, but physios were also seeing them in children, she said.

But in good news, such injuries are not permanent and would settle with treatment, which usually involved splinting to give the finger a chance to rest, along with strengthening work.

The most important part of the treatment was advising people to stick to the guidelines of less than two hours per day of screen time outside of work and even less for children, Ms Fitt added.

People also need to change the way they hold their phone.

“(To try) scrolling with different fingers, not just always going on and on the thumb,” she said.

“The other part of this in terms of physical injuries is that scrolling really takes over the time that we would normally spend doing other physical activity and moving our bodies and so there’s that element as well.”

Australian Communications and Media Authority research released in December showed the Covid pandemic helped drive rapid growth in Australians’ online activity.

Aussies downloaded a total of 9.8 million terabytes of data in the three months to June 2021, a 20 per cent jump compared to June 2020.

The research showed Australians were increasingly turning to the internet for a range of everyday activities, including work, accessing services, banking and shopping.

Originally published as Aussie physios seeing jump in thumb injuries from excessive mobile phone use

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