BlackBerry thumb

BlackBerry thumb
Overuse of the thumb to operate a mobile device may lead to BlackBerry thumb

BlackBerry thumb is a neologism that refers to a form of repetitive strain injury caused by the frequent use of the thumbs to press buttons on PDAs, smartphones, or other mobile devices. The name of the condition comes from the BlackBerry, a brand of smartphones that debuted in 1999,[1] although there are numerous other similar eponymous conditions that exist (e.g. "wiiitis",[2] "nintendinitis",[3] "playstation thumb", and "cellphone thumb"[4]). Part of the rationale is that the thumb does not have the dexterity that the other four fingers have, and that it is especially common in those who use these devices for such activities at high speeds comparable to that of touch typing.[5]

Symptoms of BlackBerry thumb include aching and throbbing pain in the thumb or sometimes other fingers and in the wrist.[6] Part of the syndrome of BlackBerry thumb is disability of the hands.[7]

Prevention

Given the way mobile devices are constructed, particularly their small size, most users find it easiest and most tempting to use their thumbs to press the keys.

Experts recommend that BlackBerry thumb can be prevented by use of other fingers to press buttons on handheld devices, and to vary which fingers are being used. They also encourage owners of these devices not to use them for lengthy typing tasks, such as "writing books".[8]

In the absence of better evidence, such speculative preventative measures risk stigmatizing hand use,[9] which can increase illness behavior as seen in the Australian epidemic of repetitive strain injury.[10]

Treatment

The recovery process from BlackBerry thumb can be lengthy, and may involve curtailing or altogether eliminating such use of a mobile device. In some extreme cases, surgery may be necessary. Current surgical alternatives include a tendon transfer whereby one of the bones at the base of the thumb is removed and a coiled tendon is put in its place as a cushion. For more advanced cases of arthritis, the basal thumb joint can be replaced.[11] However, recovery can be lengthy and outcomes optimal only in patients who have low activity demands on the thumb joint.

One alternative medicine treatment is prolotherapy. Reeves has published a small randomized clinical trial showing some efficacy.[12] Since surgery on small hand joints with severe arthritis can be traumatic with protracted recovery, newer treatments are being developed. Mesenchymal stem cell transplants offer one possible solution for cartilage replacement in damaged joints. Some spas offer massages as a method of cure.[14][15]

Alternative view

The primary issue seems to be a misinterpretation or an overinterpretation of the nociception (pain-related nerve signal) that can accompany arm use.[16] Nociception can stimulate our built-in "pain alarm", alerting us to real or potential tissue damage; however, we learn to interpret and reassign these signals because most pains are false alarms. For instance, in many contexts, activity-related pain is seen as healthy: think yoga or other athletic/exercise endeavors.

Common features of activity-related pains that have not received the attention they deserve include stress, job burnout or dissatisfaction, and secondary gain (where a person benefits either directly or indirectly from being ill).[17]

References

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