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Text Claw: How To Alleviate Pain From Too Much Smartphone Use

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Got text claw?

It might not be an official medical diagnosis, but anyone who's spent enough time on a cell phone can likely attest to feelings of soreness and cramping in the fingers, wrist and forearm after too much tech use.

Any sort of fine motor activity can lead to pain in the tendons or muscles, explains orthopedic surgeon Aaron Daluiski, M.D., chief of the Hand and Upper Extremity Service at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "There's no specific diagnosis that arises from people using technology devices," he tells HuffPost. "If you were to be shucking corn or rolling cigars or anything else, it would probably be the same."

But being glued to tech devices like smart phones can exacerbate certain conditions, Daluiski says. For instance, tendinitis -- which is inflammation of the tendons, the cords that attach bone to the muscle -- is linked to overuse and repetitive motions of the hands or fingers.

And just because your thumb seems to be doing all the work doesn't mean the discomfort is confined to the hand. Many times, repetitive hand motions lead to pain in the wrist and forearm because they are all connected, says Eugenia Papadopoulos, an occupational therapist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Without proper treatment, muscles can become fibrotic and scarred, leading to loss of mobility and strength (not to mention a lot of pain).

Of course, it's practically impossible to engage in all the many features of smart phones -- Web browsing, texting, Candy Crush -- without using our hands. To find ways to cope, we asked Papadopoulos to walk us through one of her therapy sessions with a patient experiencing tendinitis. Below, check out some easy stretches you can do at home if you feel pain starting to creep in.

warm hands
Apply heat (or cold!) to the affected area. Using heat is something anyone can do at home, whether it's with a hot towel or a hot pad. In cases of chronic tendinitis, where the pain is experienced for longer than a week for an extended period of time, heat can help to relax the muscles, allowing for better stretching.

But Papadopoulos notes that if your pain is acute -- meaning you've only been experiencing it for about a week -- it's better to apply cold to the affected area since heat can cause swelling and lead to even more pain.

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Stretch your arm out so that the hand extends backward, stretching the muscles. Papadopoulos put her patient's arm up on an incline, and bent his hand backward against the incline. This helps to stretch the tendons out further and provides a foundation for the following exercise.

nodule
Search for tightness and nodules by massage. Here, Papadopoulos used her fingers to press down on her patient's forearm, moving up and down to search for nodules, which occur when the muscles go into spasm. "You want to break it up, it feels like a little ball" under the skin, she says. You can apply this pressing down massage motion any place you're feeling pain, whether it's in your forearm, your hand near the thumb or on another part of your hand or arm.

But Papadopoulos warns that you shouldn't overdo the massaging lest your muscles become sore. And beware applying too much pressure on the area near your thumb: "A nerve runs right there and it can be very painful if you press too hard," she says.

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Stretch on your own. Here, Papadopoulos's patient demonstrates one of the stretches he does at home when not in a therapy session. He puts his hands together in a prayer-type gesture, and holds it for several seconds.

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Stretch your hand back. In this stretch, Papadopoulos's patient pulls his fingers gently toward him while his arm is turned upside-down.

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Flex your hand forward. In this stretch, Papadopoulos's patient turns his wrist down and pulls his fingers down and toward himself.

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Flex your hand backward. This stretch is similar to the last one, except Papadopoulos's patient turns his wrist up and pulls his fingers up and toward himself.

Of course, your best bet when you first start experiencing pain in your hands, wrists or arms, is to just take a break, Daluiski says. If your pain is pretty clearly caused by smartphone use/texting, Papadopoulos also recommends modifying the way you use your phone so that you're using your index finger and not your thumb to press buttons or touch the screen, as well as downloading a voice dictation app so you don't have to type as much. She also says a brace can help to alleviate pain, but it's important to check with a health professional first.

Disclaimer: The photos and descriptions above are not meant to be taken as medical advice or instruction; they are purely for informational purposes. If you are experiencing pain in your hand/wrist/arm and you suspect it could be tendinitis, carpal tunnel or another condition, you should talk to a medical professional about the best course of treatment for you.

 
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