When Thumbs Can't Handle

Our thumbs help keep us connected in so many ways. To our job, to our friends, to our community- to our hands! These are some of the hardest working, best extensions we have of ourselves. Because we use our hands and thumbs so much, they can become painful while performing everyday tasks that seem so simple, like typing or texting.

Phones continue to become more advanced and continue to increase in size. When you hold your phone, your thumb often curls around the phone as you text, frequently “bumping” into the side of the phone during your movement. This position can become stressful and taxing to the thumb during a repetitive task like texting. When our bodies do the same movement over and over again, it can lead to pain in the joints. This pain can come from the joints not getting a chance to rest or change positions, such as when you repeatedly use your thumb while browsing the web, emailing, or texting on your phone.

 What to do? Instead of trying to finish a long text all at once or joining in all the group chats in the family, break it down. If you can, try to take a few seconds pause after typing each paragraph, or place your phone on a table and use your index finger (“pecking”) to give your thumb a break. Another easy option I tell my patients: try a “PopSocket” on the back of your phone. These ingenious little devices let your phone rest in-between your fingers, so your thumb is not trying to help hold your phone while curving around to text. Finally – if your device offers voice-to-text, use it! Dictating to your phone once in a while can give those fingers a very welcome break. (Just make sure to proofread before you press SEND!)

Along with texting, pain in thumbs can also come from typing. The “space” bar is the most used key on your keyboard; this is (almost) always controlled by our thumbs! The repetitiveness of striking the key can be a subtle irritant for thumb pain. Laptops, in particular, can make thumbs painful because the keyboard cannot be moved. People often have to reach, lean, or accommodate to get to the keyboard. Poor posture while typing can cause strain and pain in thumbs.

What to do? Try a padded wrist support. This pad acts like a “backstop” to let the thumbs and hands rest more while typing. Like texting, take breaks frequently (every 30 minutes of typing). While taking a break, try gently shaking your arms down by your side for 10 seconds. This allows your arms to relax and offers the joints of the thumb less stress during the quick break.

If the pain becomes intense when typing or texting, begins to happen at rest, or you are unable to sleep because of pain in your thumbs/ hands, consider seeking an assessment by one of our hand surgeons.

The OrthoSouth Hand Center is comprised of 5 fellowship-trained and board-certified hand specialists who work closely with our certified Hand Therapists to diagnose and treat a wide range of hand, wrist, and elbow-related injuries and conditions. Schedule your appointment here, or walk in at your convenience for a 5-star orthopedic experience, hands down.


This article is provided courtesy of Tyler Cannon, MD, and Evelyn Daniel, ORT/L, CHT.