Avoiding Smartphone Injuries

By Stephanie Blanchard, Assistant Editor — January 07, 2013

In our never disconnected life, the over use of technology can cause repetitive stress injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is well known and affects millions of workers across all industries, but did you know that there’s a whole list of injuries that can come from using a smartphone?

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), in its report “Using Smartphones Wisely,” has identified six common ailments from smartphone use. Some, like carpal tunnel, come from simple repetition, but one is just plain stupid and comes from plain old carelessness.

Smart Phone Thumb
Problem: Compulsive smartphone use may result in a dull discomfort that originates in the wrist or thumb, especially when bending or straightening. “Phone thumb” is usually a result of awkwardly typing on a small keyboard for hours on end.

Tip: Secure your smartphone with one hand, type with the other, using your index finger. Don’t write massive tomes. Instead, make text talk your friend, with short, concise messages. If possible, use Swype or equivalent apps that enter the words for you. When pain appears, reduce inflammation immediately with ice packs. Daily stretching is also recommended.

Cell Phone Elbow
Problem: Holding a phone up to your ear on a constant basis can result in tingling or numbness in the little finger. In worst case scenarios, weakness in the entire hand can occur.

Tip: Use speakerphone and hands-free devices as often as possible. If neither option is feasible, switch hands frequently during long conversations.

Cell Phone Neck
Problem: Tilting your head or using your shoulder to secure a phone to your ear can result in muscle pain and spams in the neck and shoulders. Tingling and numbness is also possible in the arms.

Tip: Stop cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder. Use speakerphone or hands-free devices whenever possible.

PDA Nails
Problem: Repeatedly pressing a keypad can result in misshaped thumbnails.

Tip: Use the fleshy pad of your index finger to type, not your fingertip and keep your nails short.

Cellular Blindness
Problem: Looking at a small screen for excessive lengths of time may result in dry eyes.
Tip: Use large sizes and readable fonts such as Arial or Times Roman. Refocus your eyes every twenty minutes by looking at a distant object. Blink regularly to moisten your eyes.

Most occupational therapists would advise you to use a bigger screen, but that is not always possible. So at the very least, try to minimize excessive internet surfing on small screens. The Vision Council has these suggestions to help avoid eye strain.

Smart Phone Fog
Problem: Becoming a danger to others while driving or walking.

Tip: Just don’t do it. While driving, keep your eyes on the road, not your cell. If you must be on the phone, use a hands-free device, which is the law in 10 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia. Texting while driving is banned in 39 states and D.C.

While walking, stay aware and alert, not buried in a text message. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 1,100 individuals were injured in 2012 as a result of texting and walking. The actual number might be higher since victims might be reluctant to admit why they were hit by a vehicle. The rise of such accidents, however, has prompted some local jurisdictions around the U.S. to ban texting and walking.

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