Much of the business world — and indeed our personal lives, too — is becoming centered on technology. E-mail, the Internet, desktop computers, laptops, pagers, cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) — these are all aspects of technology that many of us now feel we cannot do without, as they make our lives so much easier and more efficient.
However, while these gadgets can make communication easier, certain devices are also having an impact on our health. You’ve probably heard about the back problems that could be caused by sitting at a computer for too long or the controversial risks of frequent cell phone use, but have you heard about “BlackBerry thumb” yet?
The PDA is a handheld device, sold under monikers such as “BlackBerry” and “Treo,” which offers mobile phone, e- mail, organizer, Web access, text messaging, music, map, and camera capabilities. Some PDAs can even include word processing or other programs. It’s a way to stay connected to work wherever you go and it’s a way to communicate with friends and family at all hours of the day and night. It’s like carrying a tiny computer around with you.
BlackBerry thumb is a consequence of the rising popularity of PDA use. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), this new workplace problem is a type of repetitive stress injury. With a PDA, you are constantly using the joints in your hand, especially your thumb; overuse or improper use can cause pain, swelling, numbness, or stiffness in these areas. It’s even worse for the middle-aged or more senior crowd — PDA use could exacerbate existing arthritis problems.
The problem is that many people use these devices at work all day and then continue writing e-mail, messaging co- workers and friends, etc., in the evenings and on weekends. This puts a lot of strain on the joints, especially on the thumb, which is not all that dexterous to begin with. It’s definitely not meant for constant typing.
If you already have symptoms of BlackBerry thumb, try putting ice on the affected area. You can also try to prevent it in the first place or reduce symptoms by following a few simple guidelines from the APTA: 1) Give yourself frequent breaks from the PDA; 2) Cut down on the number and length of the messages you write (you can abbreviate many words); 3) Use a support for your wrists, if possible, to keep them from being bent.
If you’re still experiencing repetitive stress symptoms in your hand, you should visit your doctor or a physical therapist immediately. They might splint your thumb, provide you with anti-inflammatory medication, or give you a cortisone injection. If your case is severe, you might have to consider surgery.