You May Be Holding Your Cellphone Wrong

David Liira

No one is talking about this common injury risk...
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

It’s common knowledge that excessive phone use isn’t good for anyone. It narrows our attention span, disrupts sleep cycles, and encourages a sedentary lifestyle. What isn’t nearly as well documented or appreciated, however, is the detriments around the physical act of holding your phone all day. You may be shocked at just how much damage that little 140–170g device can cause.

This phenomenon is frequently labeled as cell-phone elbow. Not only are phones bad for your eyes, but they can gradually aggravate the nerves, muscles, and tendons that are involved in holding the device. As bizarre as it may sound, the tissues in your arms can pay just as much of a price for your excessive screen time as your brain.

We were never designed to hold a device at all hours of the day. It’s time to rethink your phone habits and foster a routine that promotes health for your mind and body.

Cell phone elbow is a real thing, and it's a problem.

We've all been there. You get comfy on the couch or bed and grab your phone to start endlessly scrolling. After a while, you may feel fatigue in your arm or get tingles running towards the hand. Because you're so distracted, you choose to ignore these signals and continue browsing. If you keep this habit up, you're asking for complications down the road.

When your bend your elbow, the ulnar nerve (one of the major nerves of the upper body) must stretch around the boney ridge of your arm. Because this stretching can irritate the nerve, keeping your elbow bent for long periods or repeatedly bending your elbow can cause painful symptoms. For example, many people sleep with their elbows bent, which can aggravate symptoms of ulnar nerve compression and cause you to wake up at night with your fingers asleep.

In some people, the nerve slides out from behind the medial epicondyle when the elbow is bent. Over time, this sliding back and forth can further irritate the nerve.
Image from MedBullets

If you have excessive device use where your elbow is bent, you may very well experience symptoms of numbness, tingling, ‘falling asleep’, or weakness throughout the arm, elbow, and medial digits of the hand. This can escalate to restricting your range of motion, decreasing your functionality with exercise and activities of daily life.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to take back control of these symptoms. Once we realize that our cellphones habits are hindering upper body health, finding solutions is incredibly easy.

How to improve your symptoms.

There are 5 major principles for maintaining phone habits and maintain upper body health. If you can achieve these consistently, you'll be sure to avert injuries and keep a healthy relationship between you and technology.

1) Limit your smartphone bouts to 10 minutes at a time. Even splitting up sessions by 2-3 minutes of movement can make a huge difference.

2) At all costs, avoid using your device while lying down on a bed or sofa. If you need to use your phone, find a natural position that allows your arm/elbow to be stabilized.

3) Perform light mobility/stretch exercises daily to keep the tissues of the upper body healthy. Simple patterns like overhead reaches, shoulder circles, and trunk twists can significantly reduce your pain and stiffness if done consistently.

4) Perform weekly weight lifting sessions to increase the strength and endurance of your upper body & postural muscles.

5) If your pain persists, please visit your doctor or physical therapist. Perhaps your issues are rooted in a pathology elsewhere in the body. A health professional can help you detect where you need to focus on, and give you an individualized plan for recovery.

In closing,

Despite the light-weight nature of our phones, they are nothing to mess with. If you find yourself holding your device for hours on end, you’re asking for elbow pain down the road. This can severely restrict your ability to perform daily activities, but it’s also so preventable if you take a step back for a moment.

This is a fantastic opportunity to rethink your screentime habits. If you can limit sessions to 10 minutes or less and completely remove device use while lying down, you’ll experience a world of a difference. Not only will your brain be happier, but your shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints will be much more functional and pain-free for years to come.

Make the jump and start getting serious about your phone use today!

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing.


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