Do you have a ‘Numb Thumb’?
Move over ‘Text Neck’. There’s a new problem on the block and it’s called ‘Numb Thumb’. If you’re a serial texter, chances are that you might be experiencing pain and/or numbness in your thumbs. And before you brush it off as a teen problem, you’ll be surprised to know that this problem is not limited to them alone but even adults, especially professionals who are glued to their phones all the time.
Case in point
A 24-year-old female recently purchased the latest fancy smartphone, as a gift from her parents. She started feeling pain in the thumb, more specifically right thumb over a period of four to six months. Whenever she used the phone for more than two hours, she would get the pain. She ignored it, thinking it will subside. However, the pain disappeared for a week. Later, she noticed the pain again but with increased severity and experienced numbness as well. It was then that she sought medical help and medication was given accordingly, recalls Dr Nilesh Makwana, director and consulting physiotherapist, Muscle N Mind Physiotherapy Centre.
What is it?
“‘Numb Thumb’ is a cause of repetitive stress injury to the thumb or even fingers. Due to repeated stress over the tendons and joints the thumb becomes temporarily numb. That’s because the thumb is more involved most of the time for texting or playing games,” explains Dr Makwana.
Dr Shirish Hastak, consultant neurologist, Wockhardt Hospital, says, “This is called De Quervain Tendinopathy. The patient has pain and mild numbness at the base of the thumb and the distal part of the wrist. Movement of the thumb will increase this pain. Texting with the smartphone will definitely produce pain and may be one of the mechanisms of more frequent occurrence of this problem.”
Frequent use of phones is a common contributor
There are many patients who are suffering from ‘Numb Thumb’. “Almost one or two cases out of 10 cases with thumb issues have repetitive stress reaction in tendons or joints. A common reason found is a newly purchased smartphone, usually among the age group of 18 to 28 years and female population (in his practice), for gender specificity, a detailed work needs to be carried out for actual ratio,” adds Dr Makwana.
Dr Hastak has seen a few patients with this problem, the most recent one being a 35-year-old lady who got this problem after delivery. Post pregnancy, this problem may be more common due to the thumb position used to hold a child, which may precipitate this problem. This disorder is mainly related to frequent thumb extension and abduction movements. These are the movements that frequently occur while texting on a smartphone as well as while holding a baby. He says, “In the new world order, the baby is frequently replaced by the smartphone.”
Is it a neurological issue?
“‘Numb Thumb’ is more like repetitive stress injury in the tendons and joint of the thumb, it can lead to degenerative changes in joints and tendon and can have numbness. I would not say it to be neurological as I have not seen that severe cases as of now. But degenerative changes can also affect nerve and can lead to neurological signs,” says Dr Makwana. On the other hand, Dr Hastak says this is not a neurological (nerves) or a arthritis (joints) problem but a problem of over use of the muscles of the thumb.
The best treatment is to give yourself a period of rest once you experience the pain while texting. Try to apply ice and rest for a day. Stretch your forearm and fingers. If the pain is persistent and severe, see a orthopaedic or physiotherapist for further evaluation, advises Dr Makwana.