Oh, My Aching Thumb!

Like many other personal trainers, Kerry Stallo assesses a client’s health before creating a workout plan. But in addition to issues related to life’s wear-and-tear, like stiff shoulders and achy knees, her North Texas clients have increasingly voiced complaints about sore thumbs, wrists and hands.

Experts define these as repetitive stress injuries or cumulative trauma disorders, but nicknames include BlackBerry thumb, iPhonitis, Nintendonitis, trigger thumb. Essentially, the pain results from overuse of handheld devices, including smartphones, tablets and gaming devices. “Our brain is very powerful, and the body can perform amazing feats over and over again,” Stallo says. “However, without proper rest, breakdown will eventually occur at the point of the repetitive stress.”

Treatment primarily centers on avoiding activities that cause the pain—which is not what most people want to hear. But for those who persist, the pain can become debilitating. “Simple tasks like brushing your teeth or feeding yourself can be excruciating,” says Leslie Diamond, a certified hand therapist with ShiftPT in New York City, who sees a lot of businesspeople and law students with these types of  injuries.

The worst repetitive stress injuries may require treatment with steroids or even surgery, she says.

Heed the Warning Signs:

-Take rest breaks; stop and stretch periodically to avoid injuries.

-If you feel pain, cramping, fatigue, spasms, numbness or tingling in the thumb, wrist or hand, avoid the aggravating task or make changes to the way you use your devices.

-Buy an over-the-counter splint to wear while sleeping to aid in resting the hand.

-Ice the painful area.

-If pain continues after a good night’s sleep, consider seeing your doctor.


Find out how to reap the benefits of our computerized world—and avoid its problems.

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