“Tech Neck” and other ways your gadgets are causing you pain

When was the last time you woke up without reaching for your phone first? When was the last time you truly unplugged even for a day and didn’t check social media, your work emails, or texted your friends, did a complete social detox ?

There is no denying that there has been a rapid rise of mobile phone dependence and gadget use over the past decades and with this came observations from different medical professionals and researchers from the field.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 25% of all computer operators have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. According to the eMarketer in 2014, Americans spent a daily average of 5 hours and 53 minutes with digital media, including 3 hours, 17 minutes a day on non-voice activities on mobile devices — a jump of more than an hour since 2013.

thumb pain from phone

Dr. Roger Powell (a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hand and elbow surgery) noted that “According to a survey by 02 (a mobile provider), in the last 5 years, forty-three percent of smartphone users have experienced thumb pain and from my own experience I have noticed that its occurrence corresponds with the rise in the use of computer workstations and cell phones.”

Similarly, pain management specialist Dr. Robert Bolash noted that “Typically, the incidence of neck pain increases with age. But today we’re seeing and treating more patients — younger patients — who never reported neck pain before.”

Different kinds of pain associated with gadget use

  1. Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI)

Daily use of cellphones, laptops, and other gadgets entail constant tiny movements to type on keyboard/screen, maneuver a mouse, etc. And these small movements can cause irritation in the tendons, swelling that can press on nerves, pain on the hands, shoulders, forearms, and can even affect the entire body.

Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) usually develops gradually and can range from mild to severe:

  • pain, aching, or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness
  • cramp

And although some symptoms might seem similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (more on this later), it is important to note that RSI can affect muscles, tendons, and nerves while CTS is all about the pressure on the median nerve on the wrist. Without treatment, RSI can cause more pain and sometimes even swelling that can last for months.   

  1. “Tech Neck”


Research has found that excessive gadget use ruins our spine and our posture. For example, new research showed that constantly bending the neck to scroll puts pressure on the neck and that one in four people between the age of 18 and 30 are seeing spiky growths (lumps) as long as 1 inch on the muscles where the head meets the neck.

  1. “Cellphone Elbow” (Cubital Tunnel Syndrome)

This is described as numbness, tingling, or pain in the forearm, elbow, and the small and ring fingers. This is due to a nerve being pressed behind the elbow when the elbow is bent for extended periods of time such as when using the phone nonstop.

Additionally, leaning too much on your elbows (which we tend to do when using our laptops) may worsen cubital tunnel syndrome.4

  1. “Text Claw”

This is characterized by the sudden stiffness or pain experienced after using a smartphone for long periods of time. The pain can spread throughout the hand and the wrist.

  1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the compression of the median nerve as it passes into the hand. The median nerve is responsible for providing the sensation to the thumb, index finger, long finger, and ring finger. CTS can affect one or both hands. Some of the main symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

  • Hand numbness
  • Hand clumsiness
  • Wrist and/or forearm pain
  • Hand pain at night
  • The sensation of pins and needles
  • Hand weakness, or wrist weakness
  • Tingling and numbness in the thumb, middle, and index finger

These conditions, especially carpal tunnel syndrome, are common workplace injuries and can cause missed days at work.

Additionally, these conditions and symptoms above can also co-occur with other muscle tissues such as tight neck and back pain. If you are getting therapy only where the symptoms are then you may NOT achieve sustainable results.

Once you have the symptoms it’s imperative that you take actions to not only adjust your workstation, computer, hand placement, ergonomics but also start medical massage therapy sessions as soon as possible.

Some lifestyle changes you might want to incorporate include

  1. Take measures to live a healthy lifestyle
  2. Be more mindful of your posture when using your gadgets, especially your phone
  3. Take breaks in between the use of gadgets if you can’t totally limit your use
  4. To keep stress under control: yoga, meditation, breathing exercises
  5. Pay attention to how your body feels. Once you sense discomfort, stop, and observe.
  6. See your alternative practitioner right away: massage therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc for maintenance

Our gadgets are basically a part of daily life now and we must never forget that they are tools–created to make our lives better, not worse. While there are many benefits to using smartphones, laptops, tablets, and all-out gadgets, we must remember to mind our posture, our frequency of use and balance our online activities with living life offline or else we make ourselves at risk for prolonged pain.

Finding the root cause of your pain and creating a personalized treatment protocol will allow you to eliminate your symptoms and get back to your regular daily activities. Living with pain isn’t living a good life. If you’re experiencing pain due to carpal tunnel, pain in your neck, elbow, and even your thumb, take action, don’t wait and hope that it will go away.

Put your questions in the comment below.

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About the author 

Ani Papazyan BS, CN, LMT, LE

As a Pain Resolution Practitioner, I empower individuals to conquer body pain, reclaim their lives, and embrace personalized wellness based on their unique genetic makeup, offering tailored solutions, self-help techniques, and transformative strategies.

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