Cell Phones Have Changed Our Lives, But Do They Cause Injuries? The internet seems to think so. Smartphone pinky is just one of many device-related injuries that have gone viral in recent years.
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Orthopedic surgeon Peter J. Evans, MD, PhD, says, “Constant cell phone use can cause a range of joint problems. While some claims may be exaggerated, others are real and involve serious long-term damage.”
What types of joint injuries can be related to mobile devices?
Sitting on your phone for hours a day puts an unnatural strain on your joints. The most common smartphone-related injuries include:
- Smartphone pink.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome (smartphone elbow).
- Text thumb.
- Neck text.
Online images of smartphone pinky show a wide gap between your ring and pinky fingers. Other photos point to a bump in your pinky finger where you prop up your phone as you talk, text, or scroll.
“But most of these images show no problem. They have a typical little finger anatomy, which can vary widely,” said Dr. Evans. “It’s also possible that people who think they have smartphone pinky may have an underlying condition.”
He suggests that the cause may be one of the following:
- Clinodactyly is a genetic malformation of the finger. It usually affects your little finger and causes the tip to bend toward your ring finger. For most people, clinodactyly causes no symptoms and does not interfere with the functioning of their little finger.
- Dupuytren’s contracture is a condition that leads to deformity, usually in your pinky and ring finger. Thick cords form under your skin, pulling your fingers toward your palm. This slow process takes place over many years. And there is no reason to believe that smartphones cause or exacerbate this condition.
Is smartphone pink real?
According to Dr. Evans, there’s a small risk that propping up your phone with your little finger could compress a nerve in your finger. Over time, you may experience pain, numbness, or tingling.
“But tingling or numbness in your little finger can also indicate a more serious condition called cubital tunnel syndrome. This condition is also known as smartphone elbow,” says Dr. Evans.
Cubital tunnel syndrome (smartphone elbow)
Cubital tunnel syndrome is a cumulative traction/compression injury to your ulnar nerve, one of the main nerves in your arm, that occurs when you bend your elbow beyond 90 degrees too often.
Holding your phone up while talking or texting can cause or worsen existing cubital tunnel syndrome – hence the name ‘smartphone elbow’. But sitting in a low chair and bending your elbow too much or resting it on the armrests of your chair as you type, or sleeping with your arms in it, is just as bad, notes Dr. Evans.
How does cubital tunnel syndrome develop?
Your ulnar nerve runs down your inner arm and then around the bony prominence (epicondyle) of your elbow before it reaches your ring and pinky fingers. It gives feeling and regulates movement. At your elbow, your ulnar nerve passes through a narrow opening at the epicondyle, the cubital tunnel.
Bending your elbow creates traction and puts pressure on your ulnar nerve at the cubital tunnel. Repeated bending of the elbow can cause long-term nerve damage.
What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
Symptoms of smartphone elbow include:
- Numbness or tingling in the pinky side of your hand, ring finger, and little finger.
- Weakness in your grip or poor finger coordination.
When should you call your healthcare provider?
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have tingling or numbness in your little finger when you bend your elbow or when you sleep. dr. Evans warns that if your symptoms don’t go away when you straighten your arms, it could be more serious and you could experience permanent loss of function.
“Early stages of nerve damage are reversible,” he says. “With minimally invasive surgery, we can open the cubital tunnel. The nerve heals completely. But as scar tissue builds up, the nerve continues to deteriorate, and that can be permanent. However, surgery is still important to prevent further progress, further sensory and motor loss and subsequent malformations.”
Texting thumb is a repetitive movement injury. “Your thumb joints are not made for texting and swiping all day,” says Dr. Evans. “Overuse can worsen underlying conditions, such as arthritis, or cause new problems in the thumb tendons.”
Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Several tendons run from your forearm over your wrist to your thumb. At the base of your thumb, the tendons pass through a narrow tunnel that holds them in place.
Rapid, repetitive thumb movements can cause inflammation in the synovium, the tissue surrounding the tendons. This condition is called tenosynovitis and can be very painful.
Types of SMS thumb tenosynovitis
Texting thumb is not new. Many types of activities can lead to tenosynovitis in your thumb joint. The Swiss surgeon Fritz de Quervain recognized tenosynovitis of the thumb in 1895. It later became known as de Quervain’s syndrome. Other names for it include:
- Washerwoman’s sprain from wringing clothes.
- Mama thumb, a result of lifting small children.
- Blackberry thumb, caused by the 90s Blackberry device.
Trigger thumb is another type of tenosynovitis that can occur with frequent texting. It occurs when your tendon does not slide smoothly into the narrow tunnel on the palm side of your thumb. You may feel a click or pop. Eventually, your thumb can get stuck.
Text neck is another RSI injury caused by sitting hunched over your smartphone. “Your head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds,” notes Dr. Evans up. “When you look down, you increase the load on your neck muscles. This extra pressure can cause muscle pain and spasms.”
Tips to avoid smartphone pinky and other device-related injuries
“Tingling, pain, and clicking in a joint are signs that you need to take a break from your device,” explains Dr. Evans out. “Ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also help.”
dr. Evans also recommends changing positions regularly. For example, try:
- Keep your phone at eye level while texting.
- Stretch your arms, hands, neck and shoulders.
- Switch hands while on the phone.
- Use your phone’s speaker or earbuds while calling.
If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, contact a healthcare provider. Early diagnosis and treatment can help you reduce pain and prevent permanent damage to your joints.