Most of us are constantly on our smartphones, browsing or texting. And while we do so, there is continuous movement of our fingers as we scroll or type. Such prolonged use of our fingers could eventually cause pain or weakness in them, leading to a condition called WhatsAppitis.
What is WhatsAppitis?
The term was first used in The Lancet, a medical journal, in 2014, on diagnosing a 34-year-old patient who complained of wrist pain caused by overuse of the messaging app. “She held her mobile phone, that weighed 130 g, for at least six hours. During this time she made continuous movements with both thumbs to send messages,” read the article.
The same article further mentions Nintendinitis, “first described in 1990”, to refer to injuries associated with video games and other new technologies. Using mobile phones constantly to send text messages could also cause Tenosynovitis or inflammation of the tendons of the thumb.
Who is affected by WhatsAppitis?
According to Dr Debashish Chanda, orthopaedic specialist, CK Birla Hospital for Women, it is adults who complain of the associated symptoms, seen more in females. “This issue is seen more in women in cases where there is excessive use of smartphones. The ratio is more skewed towards adult females who complain of neck and thumb pain,” he told indianexpress.com.
Dr Chanda added that only two out of 10 patients present symptoms caused by excess use of smartphones. “Most of the time patients aren’t even aware that the problem is because of excessive usage of smartphones. It is realised only on detailed examination of the symptoms,” he said.
One cannot deny how heavily dependent we are on smartphones, be it for recreation or personal and professional duties. According to Dr Siddharth M Shah, consultant orthopaedics & joint replacement surgeon, SL Raheja Hospital, smartphones users are estimated to spend more than three hours every day on their phones. “Millennials check their phones screens more than 100 times a day,” he said.
What are the symptoms of WhatsAppitis?
The orthopaedic symptoms, Dr Chanda explained, include “cervical spondylitis (which is numbness and weakness in the fingers), trigger finger (that causes pain, stiffness, and a sensation of locking or catching when you bend and straighten your finger) and finger pain which includes tendinitis inflamed metacarpal phalangeal joints, wrist pain especially De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, which is a painful condition that affects the tendons in your wrist”.
Redness and pain in the eyes, insomnia, sleep disturbance and fatigue are some of the other common symptoms to watch out for.
How to treat WhatsAppitis?
If you notice the above mentioned symptoms, you should consult a doctor for immediate treatment after diagnosis. “In the case of acute symptoms, medication is required which includes anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants or some cartilage supplements. Wrist brace can also be advised. Quite often, one can get relief from physiotherapy and rehabilitation,” said Dr Chanda.
Apart from posture correction, the patient is also counselled on controlled use of smartphones to minimise the risk of inflammation and pain. Here are some preventive tips to keep in mind while using smartphones:
1. To avoid pain, one should ideally minimise the frequency of typing and scrolling.
2. There are apps to track your smartphone usage which you can use to keep a check on screen time.
3. Balance the phone in both the hands. Keep your wrists straight while using the smartphone.
4. One should not use the phone for more than 15-20 minutes at a time.
Dr Shah suggested one can use the voice message function more often rather than typing, to reduce the strain on the thumb. Smartphone detox from time to time is also recommended.
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