Staying connected via a smartphone or tablet can be a health hazard. Texting or gaming – with the hand and fingers repeatedly making the same actions – on a smart device can put the user at risk of injury. The repetitive action can cause damage, while the way that the device is held – especially for long periods – can also lead to soreness and pain in the wrist, thumbs and fingers.

Likewise, sitting or standing hunched over a tablet can strain the neck ligaments and muscles. Most people stretch their neck and head forward when reading, watching a film, or typing on a tablet, and if they hold that posture for a long time, micro or very tiny tears can occur in the muscle fibres or tendons.

“The bad posture occurs when reading a book too, but you are more likely to adjust your posture when you start feeling some strain. With digital media that includes sound and moving pictures, people are usually engrossed to the point of not moving, at least not until the battery dies!” said Dr Darren Tay, Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Indeed, some studies have shown that spending many hours in the same position, doing the same action, puts the user at twice the likelihood of suffering from neck aches and other symptoms as someone who uses the device less frequently.

Text neck, blackberry thumb, trigger finger are repetitive stress or strain injuries (RSI)

Micro tears and soreness usually heal with time, but poor posture that is not corrected can put increased pressure on the discs that cushion the bones of the neck. In the long term, the discs may wear out, or even slip out, causing them to pinch on the nerves. The affected person will then feel pins and needles running down his or her arms.

Popularly referred to variously as text neck, blackberry thumb, nintendonitis, trigger finger or trigger thumb, “these pains are broadly grouped as repetitive stress or strain injuries (RSI),” said Dr Tay.

If not treated, RSI can lead to other more serious conditions, he added. Typing repeatedly on a smart device can cause the tendons of the thumb or fingers to become inflamed, with pain on the inner side of the thumb or fingers, or at the joints. Over time, it might become difficult to flex the thumb or fingers as the digits become locked in a certain position, a condition known as trigger thumb or trigger finger.

Read on for more smartphone injuries and tips to reduce the risks.

Ref. R14