Blackberry Thumb : Texting can hurt you! | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Blackberry Thumb : Texting can hurt you!

June 6, 2019

That won’t happen to me!  I don’t own a blackberry, so it can’t apply to me!  If you text or do email via phone (iPhone, android, etc) this applies to you.  I bet half of the people reading this immediately thought that this ‘will never happen to me’ and those are the half that should probably be most concerned.  With us in the throws of the digital age, joints in our body are being taxed differently than they ever have before.  And with that new diseases and injuries are cropping up.  Injuries that could take us away from the things we love and adore greatly – our phones.

What is blackberry thumb?

Quite simply put it is the over utilization of the thumb on handheld devices.  Most people hold the device and use our thumbs in excessive repetition.  But not only that, in order to type on devices such as iPhone and touch screens, it must be a precision touch so most of the time your thumb is bent to a complete 90 degrees in order to provide the correct touch.  The thumb is not meant for dexterity, it is meant more for grasping.  But yet it needs extremely good dexterity in order to type as quickly as most people type.  This places demands on it that tax the joint in ways that it is not meant to be taxed.  Back when PlayStation and Nintendo were big for hand held devices it also was called nintendonitis.

Most often it is the proximal interphalangeal joint of the thumb that is effected the most.

The joint pictured here, the proximal interphalangeal joint of the thumb (all the way on the left) is most often effected and pain is most often felt in the spot.  To give you an idea of what it looks like with skin on, if you look at you thumb, it is the joint where you see the distinct wrinkles.  If you were asked to bend your thumb, you would bend this joint.  Placing this joint in an incorrect posture and placing repeated demands on it can lead to Blackberry thumb.

However, by the time most people seek treatment and identify this as a problem it has become much more than just an inflamed joint.  It can develop into trigger finger, tendinitis or can even, in rare cases effect the functioning of the whole arm.  Unfortunately allowing it to develop into something more can lead to longer healing times.

How to treat Blackberry thumb?

A splint is not the answer.  When people splint the thumb it will not help, why?  Because now you will have to go around another barrier in order to type.  This will place additional stress on the thumb.  Although there are splints out there that advertise they are designed for Blackberry thumb, they will not help.  They may actually hurt you and wind up creating a bigger problem than just Blackberry thumb.

The first thing to do is rest.  Start learning to type with other fingers.  This will be slower, no doubt but it will save you in the long run.  If it persists then begin icing, 10 minutes a day to that joint.  This is the prescribed course of action if you feel pain right in the joint.

If you feel the pain has going up the hand, on the side of the hand, into the wrist or even the arm, then physical therapy is warranted.  There the physical therapist can help teach you better ways to hold your electronic device.  The physical therapist will be able to perform manual therapy to allow the inflammation in the joint to decrease.  Eventually strengthening exercises will be performed to help strengthen the joint back to its original state.

However, even with seeking treatment, this will be a reoccurring problem unless you correct your posture and adjust how you use your thumbs.