Thumb not meant for typing
October is National Physical Therapy Month.
For millions of Americans, hand-held electronic devices such as BlackBerries, Treos and Sidekicks are a source of convenience and efficiency. But, if used improperly, they can also be a source of chronic pain and injury, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
'"BlackBerry Thumb," the latest in a string of techno-related, workplace maladies, is a catch-all phrase for repetitive stress injury, causing pain and/or numbness in the thumbs and joints of the hand,'" Margot Miller, a physical therapist with APTA's Occupational Health Special Interest Group, said.
Spending too much time checking and composing e-mails, instant messaging and accessing the Internet for both work and personal use through a handheld wireless personal digital assistant, cause the condition. The use of PDAs is no longer limited to the eight hours spent in the workplace. More and more, people are depending on these devices to stay in touch with friends and family before and after the work day and on the weekends, as well as having access to work when they leave the office.
People who use PDAs for more than short intervals, several times a day -- are more likely to develop symptoms ranging from swelling and hand throbbing to tendonitis. Additionally, because so many PDA users are middle-aged businesspeople, overuse can aggravate underlying arthritis, Miller said.
The keyboard of a PDA is so small and the thumb, which is the least dexterous part of the hand, is overtaxed (for faster typing), and increases the risk of injury.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders, which include repetitive strain injuries, accounted for a third of all workplace injuries reported in 2003 -- the latest data available.
Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and treat people of all ages who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. PTs also help prevent conditions associated with loss of mobility through fitness and wellness programs that achieve healthy and active lifestyles.
Anyone with questions regarding strains, pains and aches, is encouraged to call a physical therapist.
Carolyn Bloom lives in Eudora. She is a physical therapist with offices in Eudora, Lawrence and Topeka.