Recently, I overheard my teenage son bragging about how fast he could text a message. “Faster than I can write,” he proudly announced. These days it’s not unusual to find people who can text faster than they type on a computer keyboard. Many students even text class notes on their phones instead of using a paper and pen. In fact, teenagers send on average over 3,300 text messages per month. That’s more than 6 text messages per waking hour! As phones and PDAs become more powerful, smaller and “smarter,” more of our daily activities are migrating from computers to phones. All this is great for technology but horrible for our thumbs.
The keyboards of smartphones are so small that most people text exclusively with their thumbs. Unfortunately, when we text, our thumbs are forced into an unnatural and strained position involving repetitive movements. Even worse, the pressure applied at the tip of the thumb is magnified at the base amplifying the stress at the thumb joint. Since our thumbs aren’t designed for this type of motion, repetitive strain injuries like tendonitis and premature arthritis in the thumb joint (carpometacarpal joint) can occur. Increasingly, yoga students are complaining about pain and soreness in their thumbs especially during arm balancing poses like bakasana and even down dog. Any inflammation in the thumb is highlighted by weight bearing poses in which the thumb is extended – a similar action to texting.
Texting involves the long muscles of the thumb specifically the bellies of the abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis longus and brevis responsible for extending and abducting the thumb. These muscles originate at the ulna or radius of the forearm and insert into the base of the thumb (first metacarpal) or phalanx of the thumb. The long extension of these muscles is why inflammation from texting can reach down through the wrist into the forearm. There is also the action of the flexor pollicis longus and brevis which flexes the thumb as it presses into the keyboard.
Luckily there are simple YTU poses that can be done at your desk, in the car or even walking around to relieve pressure in the thumbs and counteract the negative effects of texting. Try this sequence from the Yoga Tune Up® Quickfix Rx DVD:
- Hula Wave
- Piano Fingers
- Opening Hands/Closing Fists
- Dangling Flower bud Movement
- Stretch webbing of thumb & forearm
It’s helpful to weave in a combination of these exercises in between multiple texts to give the thumbs a counter stretch or maybe consider actually dialing a phone number and speaking to someone in person – at least it doesn’t involve your thumb.
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This post is so important and impacts everyone!!!!! Thank you for listing out the muscles that are affected, as well as resources for self-care.
I guess we are only in the beginning age of “thumb texting issue age”. If i´m not aware it´s so easy to just “happily” text away using only the poor thumbs, forgetting that there is another option to actually dial the nr with the pointer finger – and using the voice to speak and the ears to listen instead of speaking and listening with the thumb. Thanks for the reminder.
I never had a problem with my hand until I purchased a larger phone. After months of holding my hand open wide to text and read articles, I begin to develop pain under my thumb. The pain eventully worked it’s way towrds my wrist before I realized that my phone was the culprit. Great article!
I am surprised there are not more injuries as a result of texting. I see so many people with the their craned down. Many of them would have ran into me had I not said something. I am waiting for one to fall off a curb or down a manhole. The mobility exercise offered here might not keep them from walking off a roof, but their hands will feel good while doing so.
I have a core group of students who are all just out of high school. They laugh at my suggestion that their phone usage is adding strain to their back, necks, shoulders AND hands. Think I’ll be directing them here to have a read 🙂
As an aside, my husband is a professional photographer for a daily newspaper- I’m sure this sequence will help his hands too, which get quite a workout when photographing long events with large cameras and heavy gear!
I like this article because it speaks to something so common and important and yet its often forgotten. We’ve evolved to be such technology dependent culture and yet we haven’t really asked our bodies how that has affected them. The hands and fingers can be quickly forgotten, especially since the generation it is currently affecting isn’t old effort to truly feel the lasting effects yet. It is clear we need to prepare and protect our bodies for what we expect from them- a dancer doesn’t just roll out of bed and onto the stage and expect her leg to extend up behind her head- why do we not warm up and cool down our bodies for our everyday life? It something we all need to be more conscious of and its great to have examples and tools here that are quick and simple, yet effective ways for us to be more conscious and frankly, enjoy our amazing bodies to their longest and most full potential.
It’s rare I have the time and energy to turn on my computer….my phone is so much easier to grab..it’s always with me. I’m noticing the issues creeping up in my thumb. I know this. I feel this. I hate that I’m a thumb typer/texter. I’ve been known to type full essay length emails on my phone. Awareness is the first step. I love to use the Alpha ball agains the wall for forearm masage as I make more steps in my thumb recovery, I’m actually typing this from my computer as my thumb rests on the space bar. Must resist thumb flexion.
i am a big advocate for exercising the fingers and the wrists. Children, teens, adults have become texting and typing fiends. I foresee a future of more neck, arm, wrist and finger problems. Children and teens may not see the end results for many years but I believe they should be educated on the subject.
When I have experienced problems with my fingers, doctors have been quick to reach for the cortisone. This is an amazing alternative to that! Thank you!
Ay! Our poor neglected hands. Someone recently said that she wants her son (who is 10) to become a hand doctor because by the time he grows up everyone will have hand problems from texting. And it’s true! I enjoyed reading your post and am going to peruse all the YTU hand exercises. As a writer (who does not text with her thumbs), I’m sure they will help my hands feel more limber and happy. Thanks for the reminder and the great info.
Thanks for a highly informative article. In keeping with your article, I actually have gone “old school” on several occasions and picked up the phone simply to avoid the repetitive strain of a “ping-pong” text conversation. I hope to weave in some of your exercises as well to help break things up.
Great post Maria! When it come to texting I think the most focus is put on the head and shoulder positions and not enough on the hand and digit positions. The same issues are seen with extended time playing video games which is also on the rise. Thanks!
I’m not a big texter myself, but I can only imagine that others (especially teens) are experiencing problems with repetitive stress on the thumb joint. Even just mimicking the action without impact, you can feel the strain that it puts on your hands- especially our opposable thumb. I’m going to start threading these poses in between other “bigger” movements as an active rest for my clients. Even if we aren’t big texters, we can all benefit from giving our hands some love!
Actually found this really helpful for my thumb and wrist…not from texting or emailing but from driving. Took me a while to figure out what I was doing with my thumb to that made me want to constantly massage the muscles of the thumb pad. I was baffled by what I was doing with one hand that was causing it and turns out during the hours I spend in the car I only hold the steering wheel with one hand and inadvertently grip it in that same position that I text…. hand and wrist exercises definitely the new wave of yoga!
I used to have a blackberry and loved how fast I could type on it. When I got an iphone I couldn’t type as fast and actually had to use my pointer finger for a while. I never realized how much damaged texting and typing can be for your thumbs. The YTU tricks for the hands are so important and helpful. I forget even the smallest actions can damage the body. Thank you for the blog and sending awareness!
[…] a result of overworking the thumbs is a common complaint with people who spend a lot of their day texting or emailing from their phones. Recently, a friend complained that she felt pain in her right thumb […]
I spend more time on my blackberry than I’d like to admit and these tricks will definitely help with the cramping when typing those long emails on the road!
Our body really adapts to what we ask of it! We really do need to be students of our students and teach to what their bodies need. Great suggestions for what we can do to help us and our students from all that texting and typing.
It’s fascinating to me that we even have to come up with such exercises. Not too many years ago texting did not even exist, and now we live in a world where most people prefer to text vs. picking up the phone to call someone. I love how the world and we as it’s people are constantly evolving and changing. It makes the study of the human body and movement so intriguing. It’s interesting that you note how are thumbs aren’t designed for texting action. I wonder how many years it will take for our thumbs to evolve into a form that is designed for texting. Most likely it will take so long that this form of communication will no longer exist. In the meantime, this is great information.
Thanks for the reminder about how important it is for us to pay attention to even the small muscles in our hands and fingers. Not very often in yoga class are we given the time to stretch and strengthen our fingers. There is so much time spent stretching and strengthening the larger muscle groups in our bodies, that often we forget the muscles that we are using quite possibly the most. I have recently been experiencing pain in my left thumb and hadn’t even thought to try my YTU balls. Thanks!
This was interesting and I would also bet that these stats are even higher than these findings considering that emailing on smart phones- specificially blackberries is so high and causes you to vigorously type for even longer duration than short quick text messages. I have very long fingers so I used to complain about this “thumb ache” quite often myself because I used to do half a days work on my blackberry alone, constantly typing and emailing on the go. Now that I’ve switched to an iphone with the touch screen instead of the tiny keyboard, I don’t have the “thumb aches” as badly anymore, but now it’s more a matter of my wrists that get sore as well from holding the phone and typing or texting away for several hours a day. But these excercises are great for the whole hand- including the wrist, forearms, fingers and thumbs! I’ll be sharing them and putting them to use on myself. Thanks for the tips!
Thank you for the wonderful reminder about the effects of texting. I love that there are specific YTU exercises that work and release inflammation from the muscles of the thumb and fingers through the arms. As all the nerves end in the hands and fingers, these exercises have the power to do more than just for the thumbs, hands and arms, but for the well-being of the entire body, like acupuncture without the needles.
ahhh! so nice to have a few tricks to release the tension of too much cell phone! I am grateful for all it can do and yet it doesn’t seem to give me much back =) I will be trying these and sharing with my clients!