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Monday, August 13, 2007

Get the `mobile’ rule of thumb

Using your handheld e-mail device or PDA a bit too much? While tech gadgets, like a business phone, may have literally brought the office at your fingertips, this may trigger a kind of health complication in itself. Doctors say overuse of handhelds could cause damage to the user’s thumb.

It’s a complication, which has been fashionably christened in the West as ‘BlackBerry Thumb’, probably due to the high popularity of BlackBerry devices. The American Physical Therapy Association has recognised ‘BlackBerry Thumb’ as a work place malady -- a stress related injury due to over-use of any PDA or smartphone.

Cause & symptoms
Handheld induced sore thumb is a type of repetitive stress injury. Typical symptoms include pain and swelling in the thumb and region around the base of the thumb and hand. There is quite often a feeling of numbness too.

“The ailment is caused by spending too much time checking and writing emails, instant messaging and using the Internet through a handheld device or a PDA or a mobile phone. Such fatigue pain will happen if there is excessive use of small keyboards,” says Sanjay Pai, chief of orthopaedics, Wockhardt Hospital, Bangalore.

Experts say a normal computer keyboard spreads out the typing strain across all fingers. However, the pressure gets restricted mainly to the thumb and adjoining areas while using a handheld small keyboard. After all, the thumb is not as flexible as the other fingers.

High-risk users
Doctors claim the risk of sore thumb will vary from person to person. “Till now, we get only a few cases every year of people complaining of handheld induced sore thumb. However as the technology becomes more popular and more widely used, the incidence of injury may rise,” says Dr Pai.

The best precautionary measure will be moderate use of handheld devices for sending e-mails or other keyboard intensive applications. Even a small break from continuous 3-5 minutes of typing may be helpful. Users need to have a discretionary judgement on the work, which can wait till they reach their office workstation.

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