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Frequent Texting Could Lead To Condition Known As 'Smartphone Thumb'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Texting may be an easier way to respond to friends and family, but it could also lead to pain and nerve damage.

As CBS2's Ali Bauman reported, doctors said the repetitive movements cause what's known as 'smartphone thumb.'

Texting has become an all day, all night activity for many people -- giving our thumbs quite a workout.

The repetitive motion appears to be leading to cases of tendonitis.

"One of the hypothesis is that the joints get loose and lax because of that the bones move differently than they would in a normal situation," Dr. Kristin Zhao explained.

Dr. Zhao is a biomedical engineer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. For the last seven years, she and a team of doctors have been looking into what's called 'smartphone thumb.'

She said the movements we require our thumbs to make as we hold our phones are awkward.

"It is also a movement that requires some force through the thumbs, so when you press on your phone you are interacting with your phone. It's not just free movement in space," she said.

In 2010, Mayo Clinic researchers began using a dynamic imaging technique to watch the bones of a healthy patient move so they could document what's normal and compare it with what's not.

"Our hypothesis is that abnormal motion of bones in the thumb could be causing pain onset and eventual osteoarthritis," Dr. Zhao said.

Doctors suggest giving your thumbs a break, using different fingers to peck at the screen or your voice to dictate the message, and performing daily stretching exercises with your wrists and fingers to keep tendons limber.

"How often are we using our joints, and how often are we resting? Are taking periods to rest or are we exposing continually across the course of the day?" Dr. Zhao explained.

It all makes sense, but could still be a tough habit to break. A recent study of 48 adults suggested that using electronic devices fro more than five hours a day might adversely affect a nerve in your wrist.

Doctors said osteoarthritis in the thumb occurs more in woman than in men.


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