Forget shop till you drop, this year it might be shop until your hands hurt. Mobile shopping is expected to have its biggest season ever, and experts forecast that US Android users alone will spend more than 1 billion hours on their devices in the fourth quarter. That’s a whopping 50% more than the same time last year!
While all this mobile device use can make your holiday to-do list disappear, it can also wreak havoc on your fingers, thumbs and hands with a condition known as texter’s thumb.
If you’ve been wearing out every shopping app on your phone these last few weeks, you may be experiencing pain or tenderness at the base of your thumb or on the side of your wrist. Video gamers are also prone to the same condition, and in that case, it’s referred to as “gamer’s thumb.” The medical name for these conditions is DeQuervain’s tendinosis.
No matter what you call it, it’s the repetitive motion and overuse in the fingers, hand, and wrist that can cause tenderness, pain, swelling, and inflammation. It may also hurt to grip things or turn your wrist. Some people experience a clicking or “catching” feeling when they move their thumb.
Texter’s thumb is different than carpal tunnel syndrome, the symptoms of which include tingling and numbness, as well as weakness and pain in the thumb, index, and middle fingers rather than at the base of the thumb. The two may be confused in self-diagnosis, and it’s important to see a professional because the treatments are different as well.
What to do if you think you have texter’s thumb or gamer’s thumb
The first thing you can do is to take a break from the phone, game console, or whatever repetitive activity might be causing your discomfort. Rest, followed by icing the inflamed area and taking NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen) can help reduce swelling and pain. These steps and a little time may be all you need to get back to normal.
But if the pain is severe, your symptoms advance or your pain expands up your forearm or further into your thumb, it’s time to see a hand and wrist doctor for an evaluation and possible treatment. Scheduling an appointment with an orthopedic hand and wrist specialist is a good idea, to ensure they can evaluate all possible causes and provide a proper diagnosis.
Your hand specialist will complete a physical evaluation which may include the Finkelstein test, in which you make a fist with your fingers wrapped around your thumb and then attempt to bend your wrist toward your pinky finger. Patients with texter’s thumb tend to have considerable pain on the opposite (thumb) side of the wrist when attempting this movement.
Treatment of texter’s thumb
If you are diagnosed with texter’s thumb (DeQuervain’s tendinosis), your doctor may recommend splinting or bracing your thumb and hand to rest the inflamed area. They may also recommend anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), or an injection of corticosteroids to help reduce swelling and pain. These are in addition to lifestyle changes – namely reducing the repetitive motion or making modifications to your movements.
If your case is severe, or non-surgical treatments do not improve your symptoms, surgery may be recommended. Surgery involves an incision in the tissue near the base of your thumb, which will release pressure on the inflamed tendons.
After surgery, most patients experience some swelling and soreness for a few days. Stitches are typically removed a few weeks after surgery, and many patients wear a splint for up to a month to immobilize the area and encourage healing. Full recovery from surgery can take 6 weeks or more, but most patients see very positive outcomes and the ability to restore their range of motion.
If you’re experiencing pain and have been spending considerable time on your phone – whether tackling your holiday shopping list or keeping track of the rest of your life – visit one of our hand and wrist specialists.