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Avoiding selfie elbow, texting thumb

A diverse group of peope looking down at their phones and devices

DALLAS – Feb. 15, 2019 – Specialists are seeing more and more repetitive stress injuries (RSI) from overuse of smartphones and tablets ­– the main instigators of emerging conditions like texting thumb and selfie elbow, notes UT Southwestern rehabilitation specialist Dr. Renee Enriquez.

“With all overuse injuries, rest is the most important part of recovery. Complete rest is best, but since technology is a required part of our everyday lives, limiting the time participating in these activities is recommended,” says Dr. Enriquez, whose expertise includes musculoskeletal treatments and interventional pain management.

The average person sends more than 40 emails daily and spends dozens of additional hours per week texting. One recent survey reported teen boys average 3,400 texts each month, while teen girls average 4,000 texts. Texting thumb is inflammation of the tendon sheath that can lead to long-term pain and disability affecting the tendon of the long flexor muscle of the thumb.

Pie chart: On average, boys send 3,400 texts each month; girls average 4,000 texts

“Consider using your nondominant hand or another digit to avoid this condition,” says Dr. Enriquez, who specializes in nonoperative treatments. “The benefit of switching things is that it will strengthen your brain and improve your dexterity.”

Selfie elbow can occur when you frequently abandon favorable ergonomic positioning in the pursuit of finding the best angle for your next social media post. Shooting selfie after selfie can strain forearm muscles, resulting in trauma to the part of the tendon that connects to the elbow joint.

“Selfie sticks, however much the nuisance, are a great way to avoid overuse injuries in the upper extremities,” she says. “Technology will continue to advance and so will its gadgets for easier use and applicability. Rest breaks and hand shifts can help us handle the strain in the meantime.”

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,500 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 3 million outpatient visits a year.