Preventing pain: Using smart phones wisely
Bethesda, MD—With the holiday season in full-swing and smart phones topping many wish lists, The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is offering some advice for smart use of smart phones.
If you have a smart phone, chances are you’ve spent hours discovering all the things you can do with it. But you may have also discovered its downside: repetitive movements of your shoulders, neck, elbows and thumbs can create pain and even structural changes in your joints, muscles, tendons and nails in addition to straining your eyes.
The names may seem odd—Smart Phone Thumb, Cell Phone Elbow, Cell Phone Neck, PDA Nails, Cellular Blindness and Smart Phone Fog—but the pain is real.
AOTA’s tip sheet, “Using Smart Phones Wisely: Prevent Pain” was developed by occupational therapy practitioners who specialize in hand therapy and ergonomics. It offers some tips for smart phone users to avoid or decrease discomfort and pain including the following:
- Keep messages short by using abbreviations and word predictions when typing on a smart phone. Take time to stop and rest your hands and perform gentle stretches.
- Do not cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder. Instead, use a speakerphone feature or hands-free ear devices.
- Switch hands frequently during extended phone conversations.
- Hold the phone in one hand and type with the other when text messaging to avoid straining your thumbs.
- Look at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes to refocus your eyes.
- Purchase a smart phone with the largest screen possible to minimize eyestrain.
- To avoid injury to yourself or others, do not use your smart phone while walking or driving.
“As technology advances and our lives become seemingly easier, we are discovering that the devices intended to help us also have the potential to do us harm,” says Debbie Amini, EdD, OTR/L, CHT, C/NDT, director of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC. “Smart phone fog, cell phone elbow, and smart phone thumb are but a few of the maladies that were unheard of years ago, but that have the potential to cause us discomfort and place us in danger today. To reap the benefits of our age of communication, there are several ways that we can surf, talk and play in a manner that does not lead to pain, numbness or situations much worse.”
Smart phones today are used for more than communication; a wide array of apps available for gaming, information retrieval, and learning set the stage for hour upon hour of thumb usage.
“Our thumbs were not created for the type of repetitive movement, static loading and joint compression that are called upon when utilizing these devices,” Amini says. “I have personally experienced pain in my thumbs following a flight where I spent over an hour scrolling and tapping to play a game on my smart phone device. Limiting usage time, using alternate fingers, and taking frequent rest breaks may decrease the incidence of pain and dysfunction in the thumbs.”
Amini and other occupational therapy practitioners can provide education on the movements that cause pain and recommend ergonomic strategies and equipment to avoid injury and aid the healing process. They can also suggest other ways to use the advice to prevent future problems.
More strategies, resources and tips dedicated to avoiding discomfort while using smart phones are offered through AOTA’s Web site, www.aota.org.
Want to interview Amini or other experts on hand therapy and ergonomics? Please call AOTA Media Relations Manager Katie Riley, 301-652-6611, ext. 2963.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.