Do you have “texting thumb,” “gamer’s thumb” or carpal tunnel? Believe it or not, they’re all related to overuse and repetitive motion of the hand and wrist. Read on to learn the symptoms and when to see a hand doctor.
No matter what you call it, injuries to muscles, tendons, and nerves from repetitive use of the hands and wrists is more common than ever. Hand doctors see more than 3 million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, as it’s technically known, in the US every year. This number is on the rise in teens and tweens who use their fingers, thumbs and wrists to swipe, tap, toggle and type for a whopping 9 hours per day.
Hand doctors diagnose carpal tunnel based on common symptoms such as tingling, numbness, weakness and pain in the hand or thumb. These symptoms can be caused by tension across the median nerve from repetitive motion of your hand and wrist.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for the first time, consider the activities you’re doing repeatedly that might be causing the pain. Then, make a conscious plan to cut back on the repetitive motions. For recreational activities like gaming, texting friends or chasing Pokémon, cutting back may not be fun but it’s possible – and necessary to give your muscles, tendons and nerves a break.
If your pain is caused by an occupational activity, cutting back may be more difficult. Try to break up continuous periods of use and at the same time explore other options to find some relief. Dr. Micah Worrell, one or our hand doctors hand doctor can recommend the right combination of evaluation and treatment for you, which may include:
- Watch your form. Hours of repeatedly pressing buttons on a control, keyboard or mouse can pinch the nerves in your wrist causing swelling and pain. Similarly, your hands are in an unnatural position when hovering over a keyboard, and when done repeatedly and for extended periods of time puts pressure across the median nerve which results in strain and eventual carpal tunnel. Try typing with your hands slightly higher than your wrists and use an ergonomic mouse and keyboard, or game console controller.
- Limit your time. If you must type or tap all day, don’t do it continuously. Just like it is unhealthy to sit at your desk for hours on end without a break, your hands need a break too. Set a timer and then stop and stretch every 15-30 minutes – even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Speaking of stretching…there are a few stretches you can do to ease muscle tension and reduce strain. Start with a “prayer stretch” where you hold your palms together at neck level with our elbows out. Bring your hands down slowly toward your waist until you feel the stretch in your wrist and arms. Do this 2-4 times and hold for 15-30 seconds each time.
- Short-term pain relief. Ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil will also reduce swelling and pain, but they are not a prevention tool nor a cure.
If your pain doesn’t subside, it’s time to see a hand doctor. The sooner you are diagnosed, the better chances you have to stop your pain and prevent any long-term damage. A hand doctor will evaluate your individual situation via a physical exam, x-rays if needed, and recommend a treatment program for recovery. The good news is that most gamer’s and texter’s thumb is a short-term problem that can be solved with rest and some discipline.
For diagnosis and treatment of hand and wrist pain, see an Advanced Orthopedic hand doctor at our Denver or Parker location. Call for an appointment (303) 344-9090.