Using Smart Phones Wisely

IF YOU HAVE A SMART PHONE, you probably have spent hours discovering all the things you can do with it. But you may also have discovered its downside: repetitive movements of your shoulders, neck, elbows, and thumbs can create pain and even structural changes in your joints, muscles, tendons, and nails in addition eye strain.

By using your smart phone with some modifications, you can avoid or decrease discomfort or pain. The following tips were created by occupational therapy practitioners who specialize in hand therapy and ergonomics.


Possible condition.. What you can do.. What an occupational therapy practitioner can do..

Smart Phone Thumb

Symptoms may include discomfort or pain in the wrist and thumb when bending either toward your pinky finger. Other symptoms may be a dull pain in the base of your thumb or pain and snapping in your thumb when you bend and straighten it.

Cause: Pressing the small keyboard repetitively and constant, awkward positioning of your hands and thumbs during use.

Hold the phone with one hand and use your free index finger to type. Keep messages short, use word prediction, abbreviations, and pre-save frequently used messages when possible. Avoid multiple internet searches and limit time playing games on small keyboards. If possible, connect a larger keyboard to use more fingers. Limit your daily time using thumb keyboards.

Be selective in returning e-mails using your smart phone keyboard.

If you feel discomfort or pain, stop, stretch and rest your fingers. Gently stretch your thumbs, fingers, and wrists. To decrease inflammation, use ice packs as soon as discomfort or pain occurs.

Educate you on the specific movements that caused the discomfort or pain and recommend ergonomic strategies to use the phone differently to prevent future issues. Provide splinting as needed to alleviate symptoms and allow the tissues to heal. Provide individualized hand therapy to treat the injury and to avoid further injury, while suggesting other ways to use the phone effectively and safely.

Cell Phone Elbow

Symptoms include tingling and numbness into your little finger and possible weakness of your hand.

Cause: Continually bending your elbow to hold the phone to your ear.

Use the speakerphone feature or hands-free ear devices when reasonable to avoid bending your elbow. Change hands frequently during lengthy conversations.

Recommend ergonomic strategies and equipment for using your phone, as well as ways to help the elbow heal and not further injure it during other activities.

Provide a splint so you aren’t able to reinjure your elbow while it’s healing.

Cell Phone Neck

Symptoms include muscle pain

and spasms in your neck and

shoulders, with possible tingling

and numbness into your arms

Cause: Prolonged head tilting and raising your shoulder to your ear to secure the phone.

Do not pin the phone between your ear and shoulder. Use speakerphone or a hands-free device.

Recommend equipment and other ways to use your phone hands free. Provide methods to reduce spasms in your neck and shoulders. Use heat, massage, therapeutic activities, and stretching techniques to reduce pain and increase healing. Recommend ways to avoid re-injury during other activities.

PDA Nails

Symptoms include misshapen and ridged thumb nails.

Cause: Continually pressing the keypad with the tips of your fingers applying pressure to the nail bed.

Hold the phone in one hand and type with the other. Keep your nails short and use the fleshy pad of your index finger—not your fingertip—to type.

Recommend alternate equipment for typing as well as ways to avoid further injury.

Cellular Blindness

Symptoms include dry eyes. Cause: Looking at a small screen for an extended time.

Use the proper corrective lenses, increase the font size and contrast, and use an easy-to-read font (e.g., Arial, Times Roman) without italics. Purchase a phone with the largest screen possible.

Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away to refocus your eyes, and blink often to keep your eyes moist. Avoid using a phone with a small screen as your primary tool for Internet searches, e-mails, and texts.

Recommend and work with an ophthalmologist or optometrist if necessary. Provide individualized recommendations for ways to use your phone without causing eye strain.

Smart Phone Fog

Symptoms include putting yourself and others in danger by using your smart phone while driving or walking.

Do not use your smart phone for texting while walking or driving. Texting while walking can lead to falling, being hit by a car, etc. If you are talking while walking, be aware of your surroundings, including cars, tripping hazards, etc. If you are talking while driving, use a hands-free device.

Provide therapy caused by injuries sustained when not paying attention.


Need More Information?

If discomfort, pain, or tingling occurs or persists despite the recommendations outlined above, consult your physician and request an occupational therapy evaluation. Occupational therapy practitioners are available through most hospitals, community clinics, and medical centers.