Handheld hazards

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 11th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

To the long list of diseases, conditions and other health maladies that humans inflict on themselves, you can add one more.

It’s variously called Blackberry thumb or iPod-itis, and it’s the condition that arises from the overuse of portable handheld electronic devices.

No, we’re not kidding.

And neither is the American Society of Hand Therapists, which issued a national consumer alert about what may be the quintessential hazard of living in the Information Age.

As anybody knows who’s observed someone tapping away at a tiny keyboard in an airport or conference room, the feat requires not only extreme manual dexterity, but a prolonged gripping action, repetitive motion and sometimes awkward wrist movements. These are just the kind of motions that can result in wrist and arm ailments such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The keyboards of handheld messaging devices such as the Blackberry pack thirty keys, each about the size of an English pea, in just two square inches. Devotees of M-P-3 players such as the ubiquitous iPod use rapid-fire thumb-clicks to spool through music lists and other files.

So, what’s a digital junkie to do? The hand therapists suggest holding the device with a neutral grip, the wrist not bent in any direction. It’s also a good idea to take a break every hour.

Among the suggested exercises is lacing your fingers together and turning your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward.

An even better idea: Stop and smell the flowers.