RSI – Repetitive Strain Injuries – are a result of doing the same thing over and over. Although what we’re doing isn’t particularly stressful, the repeated movements cause problems for our joints, muscles and tendons and can lead to a range of conditions. Initially, RSI may just present itself as discomfort, tingling, or numbness, but it can eventually lead to severe pain, and long-term medical conditions such as tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment may require anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, or even surgery.
Using keyboards all day is one of the most common ways of getting RSI. The more we type, the more risk we’re at, and office workers are among the most at-risk people. Poor seating, poorly designed workstations, and even poor lighting can increase that risk. Working on laptops can be equally damaging. It’s important to have an ergonomically designed workstation and to get into good habits, such as taking regular breaks. (We mentioned the importance of regular breaks when we talked about chairs – this is just another reason to do so! Getting away from your desk is good for your health.)
There’s a new variant of RSI that’s on the rise these days – texting thumb. It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. Our thumbs were never meant to be used as high-speed data input devices. The muscles, tendons and joints evolved to provide a strong grip and lock our fingers in place while holding small objects or forming a fist. Keyboards were designed for our fingers, not our thumbs.
When we use our thumbs for typing on small keyboards, especially at the speed some teenagers seem to reach, we’re putting an unnatural strain on them. It’s not a problem if you’re doing it occasionally, but after a while, if you’re a frequent texter, it can cause both short-term and long-term damage including carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
It may be sufficient just to lay off the phone until your thumb feels better. In more extreme cases, however, drugs or surgery may be required. Orthopedic surgeon Dr Eon Shin says, “If you are experiencing tingling or numbness in your hands, especially while sleeping, try not to turn a blind eye or think of it as a normal bodily occurrence.”
To prevent texting thumb, try these five thumb exercises. They may sound silly, but if you’re a frequent texter, then, seriously, you need to look after your thumbs.