Texting & Gamer’s Thumb
Using a smartphone or playing a video game may not seem like much of a workout. However, when it comes to using the tendons in your thumb and hands, texting and gaming can cause far more stress to the body than you might think. When an individual does a lot of texting or gaming, they might start to experience pain in their thumbs. This pain is commonly referred to as texting or gamer’s thumb, and in some cases, skier’s or gamekeeper’s thumb, depending on how the condition came to be.
Historically, the condition gets its name from an injury that was commonly seen in gamekeepers during the 1950s. The condition was coined by CS Campbell, an orthopedic surgeon, in 1955, who noticed consistent damage to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in Scottish gamekeepers.
In today’s day and age, we find that texting and gamer’s thumb are the most commonly seen forms of the condition, as they account for approximately 85% of all thumb related injuries. In addition, skier’s thumb is reported to be the second most common form of injury as a result of skiing. Today, we will go into further detail regarding the causes, signs, and symptoms of texting and gamer’s thumb, followed by the treatment and recovery methods that we use regularly here at JIS Orthopedics.
Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Texting & Gamer’s Thumb
Texting or gamer’s thumb occurs when the inner ligament at the base of the thumb is injured as a result of overuse or trauma. When an individual is gaming or using a smartphone, he or she is making several repetitive movements and putting their thumb through a wide range of motion that it isn’t exactly designed for (scrolling, zooming, swiping, and more).
In some cases, when sudden injury is the cause, the condition is referred to as skier’s thumb. This is when a skier falls while he/she is still holding the pole, causing a force to the thumb and hand. In the end, both forms of the condition can be caused by activities that require a tight grip (skiing, tennis, golfing, etc.), falling, or high-impact sports.
Listed below are some of the common symptoms of texting or gamer’s thumb:
- Pain that is present when the wrist is flexed or turned
- Pain when forming a fist, or grabbing
- Inability to move the thumb
- Misaligned thumb
- Weakened grip
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, then it might be time to see an orthopedic specialist. From there, he or she can evaluate the severity of your condition and determine whether or not there are any underlying causes.
Texting & Gamer’s Thumb Diagnosis
During the diagnosis process, your doctor will take a look at your medical history and any symptoms you are experiencing. He or she will also perform a physical examination of both hands, comparing one to the other to determine if there is any laxity. During this step, your doctor will often provide you with local anesthetic, given that these tests are known to be painful. Lastly, the diagnosis process may involve an imaging test, such as an X-ray or MRI. This will help your doctor get a better look at bone structure and evaluate whether or not there is any tissue damage present.
In cases where damage to the UCL is minor, surgery is typically not needed. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common non-surgical treatment methods for texting and gamer’s thumb:
- RICE program – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
- Ice packs during the first few days after the injury occurs
- Physical therapy
- Splint to immobilize the thumb, typically for 3 consecutive weeks. After 3 weeks, the splint can be removed to perform hand therapy and strength exercises. Total splint time is typically 4-6 weeks.
- Anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen
In most cases, any major injury to the UCL will require surgery as soon as possible. If you wait too long, then your conditions can worsen and will likely reduce the chances of a full, healthy recovery.
During thumb ligament surgery, your doctor will aim to stabilize the torn tissue in the affected region. After the ligament is repaired, the next step in the recovery process is physical therapy. The goal of physical therapy is to regain full mobility and range of motion in the thumb.
Recovery / Healing
Depending on the treatment, recovery and healing times for texting and gamer’s thumb can vary. If you underwent non-surgical treatment methods, you can expect a healing time of about 4-6 weeks. Individuals who underwent a thumb ligament surgery can expect to have grip and hand strength back in 3-4 months, while full recovery typically takes anywhere from 6-12 months. During the recovery process, therapy is often initiated as well.
Aside from recovering and healing, it is equally as important to make sure you are taking the proper steps to avoid the condition from recurring in the future. We’ve put together a list of some activities that will help prevent texting or gamer’s thumb from taking place down the line:
- Limit your time spent gaming, texting, etc.
- Exercise your thumb during regular breaks
- Soak your thumb in warm water during regular breaks
- Foam rolling
JIS Orthopedics Can Diagnose & Treat Your Injury, And Help You Recover
Are you experiencing symptoms related to texting and gamer’s thumb? If so, we recommend getting a diagnosis as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the chance will be that your condition worsens and prevents you from doing the things you love. Schedule an appointment with JIS Orthopedics today. We’d love to give you a proper diagnosis of your condition and help get your body back on track!