Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

When you sit on your phone, scrolling mindlessly, does your thumb get sore?

If you answered yes, you are not alone.

Queensland physiotherapist Lizzy McCowan said repetitive strain injury (RSI) in thumbs was becoming more common.

She attributed the condition to the long hours spent on devices.

Ms McCowan said more people were seeking help for pain associated with “doomscrolling”.

“We’re now seeing a lot of patients coming in with symptoms in their thumb.

“And that’s all coming from a lot of the scrolling we’re doing on our phones and our iPads.”

A woman in a business shirt smiling at the camera
Ms McCowan says there are some simple things that can be done to prevent thumb pain.(Supplied)

Ms McCowan said the problem was the muscles in our thumbs were not strong enough to do the work of endless scrolling.

“When we overload a muscle and a tendon that isn’t used to doing that amount of work, the tissue does not have that capacity,” she said.

“And then it starts to break down, and we get that pain and inflammation through that thumb and swelling associated with that.”

Thumb exercises help prevent strain

Ms McCowan said there were some simple things people could do to prevent thumb pain.

“When you think about the thumb, it does that opposition movement, but it also can go in a number of different directions,” Ms McCowan said.

“The thumb, as you know, is quite adaptable and movable.

A group of people sitting, each holding and using a mobile phone
Ms McCowan says posture should be a priority when you are on your device.(Unsplash: Robin Worrall)

Ms McCowan uses putty, playdough and resistance bands in her clinics to strengthen finger muscles.

“So we think about strengthening the muscles up in the forearm with a Theraband,” she said.

“As well as like that gripping action and that same action as well with putty.

“You would do the action that you’d have with a thumb, so repeating that direction, but you’d also repeat the opposite direction to the thumb scroll as well.”

Negative news affects mental wellbeing

Psychologist Rachael Sharman says excessive use and reliance on our phones is contributing to an overall lack of movement.

“I think you know you’ve really overdone it when your thumb feels like it’s about to fall off,” Dr Sharman said.

A smiling woman with short brown hair, purple turtle neck looks into the camera and has a cluttered desk.
Dr Sharman says excessive mobile phone use contributes to lower physical activity and movement.(Supplied)

“If you’re on your phone, you’re not moving, you’re not getting out and about and doing simple things.

She said mental wellbeing could also suffer because of constant exposure to negative news online.

“I think people just need to develop a bit better sense of perspective,” Dr Sharman said.

“Whatever they’re doing, scrolling that day, just be aware that that’s one small part of what’s going on in the world, and it’s really usually not that bad.”

Maintain good posture while scrolling

And when you are on your device, Ms McCowan says posture should be a priority.

“That’s one thing I think we should not be overlooking on our daily basis,” she said.

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