The other pathologies of the pandemic: physical injuries are aggravated by mobile phone use

Among the very diverse health effects that the pandemic is registering, one of them has to do with hand and wrist injuries due to the dramatic increase in mobile device use that has occurred since confinement. Specifically, specialists emphasize two syndromes: the carpal tunnel and the cubital tunnel, which refer, respectively, to numbness in the thumb, middle and index fingers, and in the case of the second, to the little fingers and void.

In traumatology these are not new pathologies, but these ailments that affect the ordinary movement of the hand during the pandemic have been amplified in a large number. The doctor Carlos Thams, head of traumatology at the new Hand and Upper Limb Surgery unit of HPS, a pioneer service in the Canary Islands, confirms it: “It has been registered an increase in pathology related to the excessive use of electronic devices, especially in patients who before teleworking were not used to spending so much time in front of the computer ”.

The disease that smartphones cause and that nobody talks about. it could happend to you

M. Palmero

He ulnar compressive neuropathy syndrome It occurs mostly in people who routinely bend the elbow more than 90 degrees. This usually happens precisely when we hold a technological device and this has increased with the excessive use of new technologies since the months of the first wave of the pandemic, and a significant increase in cases is still observed throughout this time.

The way you type on these devices makes your thumb dominant. A common consequence is tenosynovitis, a painful condition that affects the tendons of the wrist on the thumb side. It is a common injury in golf or racquet sports players, but is currently increasing considerably in children and adults.

Dr. Thams clarifies to El Confidencial that the fact that these injuries are aggravated, for the moment, it's just a perception, "based solely on the upward trend that we have seen in recent months in the consultation, but we have not carried out any rigorous study that demonstrates the above."

Carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndromes affect ordinary hand movement, causing persistent pain

The Hospital Perpetuo Socorro (HPS) of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has recently created the Specialized Unit for Surgery of the Hand and Upper Limb, in order to increase the degree of specialization within the area of ​​trauma and to be able to study each case individually. to achieve the best result in the shortest possible time. The doctors Carlos Thams and Irene Martín They are specialists in Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology, specialized in Hand and Upper Limb and dedicated for years exclusively to treating the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. The two surgeons have extensive experience in minimally invasive surgery, arthroscopy, microsurgery, and ultrasound-guided surgery.

They both agree that the change of habits caused by the irruption of the coronavirus pandemic has had a negative influence on certain pathologies included in their specialty, mainly those that affect the hand and wrist: "We have been struck by an increase in tendon and ligament injuries related to physical exercise, especially in people who have wanted to do training at home during confinement", they add.

Technology abuse

Confinement has raised more than 9 hours a day the time of use of digital devices such as mobile phones, tablets, video games and computers, according to the study 'Personal well-being and the use of technology in confinement', directed by the research group Youth in Transition, of the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) of the University of Navarra .

The work, of international scope, has been carried out from 9,300 surveys carried out in Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. 70% of those surveyed have acknowledged having increased "a lot or a lot" the use of digital devices during the months of confinement due to the covid-19 epidemic. Instead, another of the findings of the report is that people who spent more time doing physical exercise and hobbies without screens have higher levels of well-being.

Those who suffer the most

According to Thams, “the greatest demand for medical attention for these types of problems is seen in people who are active at work, especially from 35 years of age ”.

"The one we see most frequently is De Quervain's tenosynovitis, which causes pain at the base of the thumb and wrist when we make certain gestures such as raising the thumb or flexing the wrist. Studies carried out in university students have detected that in some individuals the muscles of the hand, especially the one that moves and stabilizes the thumb, has developed more markedly. This is due to the plasticity of the body to adapt to certain physical demands, in the way in which the body of a swimmer or tennis player is transformed depending on the sport discipline ", he explains.

"One thing we also see more often is young and middle-aged patients who consult for symptoms similar to those of carpal tunnel syndrome, but in reality a contracture of the paravertebral muscles in the cervical spine is a secondary condition, due to maintaining a bad posture for too long looking at the screen of the mobile in the hand. In English they have called it 'texting neck', something like 'message neck' ", he adds.

Prevention of these injuries

Regarding inflammatory pains in the hands and wrists, the main recommendation of the doctor is to rest the hands: "That is, not to use mobile devices so much. Take breaks, learn to use both hands so as not to overload one. When we write with the mobile phone in hand, the thumb is forced a lot, so we can recommend doing it with the mobile supported on a table. You can also use the dictation function (speech to text). Another option is to use a pencil with a rubber tip to make writing or typing easier on these devices. When pain occurs, it is best to stop use the mobile and apply cold ".

On the other hand, for prevent cervical symptoms the specialist points out that you have to take care of your posture, take breaks, and learn to maintain correct postural hygiene. Physical exercise is also important to prevent cervical spine problems.

The doctor also throws the following advice: "Reduce the use of mobile devices, rest the body, try to maintain a correct posture as much as possible and combine with physical exercise ".