Treating Smartphone Thumb (and Other Online Bridge Injuries)

Smartphone thumb is an injury for the age of smartphones.

It might sound fancy, but it’s just a new name for what’s called repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injuries are ones like tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis or writer’s wrist. The term describes injuries triggered by repetitive actions, and repetitive strain injuries usually go hand-in-hand with a specific activity, action or career.

Bridge players are not immune to repetitive strain injuries, least of all players who keep their game online.

Here’s how to spot and treat smartphone thumb (and other online bridge injuries).

Common Online Bridge Injuries

“Smartphone thumb” is just one of many possible injuries associated with long-term smartphone use. 

Users might also experience repetitive strain injuries that affect the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, back and hips over time. Heavier smartphones and tablets could increase the likelihood injuries like these, and existing conditions like arthritis increase your risk even further.

Everyone has a smartphone-related habit or something they do when they’re lost in thought: Sometimes these habits, like craning the neck a specific way or hunching over the screen, can worsen injuries too.

Some Concerning Symptoms

Repetitive strain injuries aren’t hard to spot for two main reasons: (1) They’re uncomfortable, (2) They’re painful.

Other symptoms are also likely, including these: 

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Joint stiffness
  • Numbness
  • Movement restriction
  • Radiating heat
  • General inflammation

With some repetitive strain injuries, you might experience pain and discomfort in places that appear to have nothing to do with the original injury site. For example, pain in the neck might actually be a manifestation of changes in your back or hips. Pay attention to these signs, too.

Seeing a Professional 

See a professional at the first signs of discomfort or injury. 

Waiting isn’t going to do your health or your injury any favors: An ignored repetitive strain injury is bound to evolve into something worse where it gets left alone and subjected to any more stress or pressure. 

In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help your injury heal.

1. Take the Pressure Off

Other than a doctor’s appointment, the first thing you might want to do for a repetitive strain injury is to take the pressure off.

Take regular breaks to stretch out the hands, avoid lifting heavy things and use a smartphone or tablet stand so that you still have access to your screen without having to strain your elbows, shoulders or wrists.

With frequent PC use, it’s worth investing in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse (as well as one of those old-school gel mousepads). While it costs a little more, these combos are far more responsive to touch and save your hands a lot of effort.

2. Cool It Down

Heat is a common symptom of repetitive strain injuries, and a common byproduct of inflammation.

In some cases, it can also point towards other conditions, particularly ones linked to blood pressure, heart conditions and circulation: See your doctor anywhere you are unsure or have a family history of health issues.

Simply said, cool it down.

Ice packs are great, but a bowl with cold water can work just as well for the same purpose. 

As an added tip, fill up a balloon with flour and stick it in the freezer for an easy stress ball. 

3. Exercise the Hands

Exercising the hands can reduce the effect that repetitive strain injuries have, and sometimes it can take the sting out of long-term symptoms.

Shuffling cards is an excellent way to build hand dexterity and strength. (It’s also completely fine if you’re bad at it: You’re hoping for health benefits, not shuffling mastery overnight.) 

There are plenty of other ways to do it. 

For just a few suggestions, there’s a great article on WebMD covering hand and finger exercises.

4. Examine Diet

Dietary triggers have a lot to do with how your body reacts to inflammation.

Examine your diet, looking for any dietary triggers: That is, anything that makes your injury feel worse after consuming it. For some people, it’s coffee and chocolate, for others, it’s acidic foods like tomatoes.

Increase your intake of immunity-boosting foods and spices, such as pepper and chili for a natural way to reduce inflammation. 

Again, see a doctor or specialist if you have trouble finding your dietary triggers.

5. Wrist Guards Guard Wrists

Guards and braces are some of the best possible ways to take the pressure off an injury.

Most joints you could mention have an appropriate guard in various sizes. If you find them restrictive or uncomfortable, find what’s called KT tape instead and view YouTube tutorials on how to do basic wrapping.