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Occupational Therapists warn that smart phones or other devices may bring on aches and pains

Hospital news | Monday, March 31, 2014

If you have purchased a new smart phone or tablet, chances are you’ve already spent hours discovering all the things you can do with it. But you may have also discovered its downside, aches and pains.

Occupational Therapy staff at Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital warns area residents that repetitive movements of shoulders, neck, elbows, and thumbs can create pain and even structural changes in joints, muscles, tendons, and nails in addition to straining eyes. Angela Wagner, Occupational Therapist and Director of Occupational Therapy, explains, “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.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers some advice for smart use of smart phones, tablets and other handheld technology to prevent pain, numbness, or even long-term nerve or tendon damage:

  1. Keep messages short. Use abbreviations and word predictions when typing on a smart phone.
  2. Take breaks. Make time to stop and rest your hands and perform gentle stretches. When on a long phone conversation, switch hands frequently.
  3. Use the device wisely. Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder. Instead, use a hands-free function like speakerphone or Bluetooth.
  4. Avoid overuse of fingers. Hold the device with one hand and type with the other to avoid strains in the wrists and thumbs.
  5. Give your eyes a break, too. Look at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes to refocus your eyes. When purchasing a smart phone or tablet, consider selecting a larger screen size which will lessen the chance for eye strain.
  6. Be safe. To avoid injury to yourself and others, do not walk or drive while using high-tech gadgets.

“Our thumbs were not created for the type of repetitive movement, static loading, and joint compression that takes place when utilizing these devices,” adds Javier Alvarez, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at PdC Memorial. “Limiting usage time, using alternate fingers, and taking frequent rest breaks may decrease the incidence of pain and dysfunction in the thumbs.”

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.

April is National Occupational Therapy Month. PdCMH employees that work in Occupational Therapy include Angela Wagner (Director), Crystal Keeney and Nathan Rickertsen, Occupational Therapists, and Javier Alvarez and Jill Koehn, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants. For information how they may help you or a family member, please call PdC Memorial Hospital at 608-357-2000.