Most Effective Ways to Heal Texting Thumb

Have you been noticing a nagging pain in your thumb?

It seems to be hurting whenever you use your thumb or wrist, but especially with text messaging on your phone…

Could it be you’re texting too much?… No way… Not possible…

Believe it or not, texting thumb, and the thumb pain that often accompanies it, is a very real thing. Let’s be honest, we have a serious smartphone addiction and are on our phones all the time texting.


Typically, the thumbs are most involved with texting on our mobile phones, especially on our dominant hand.

While they may be small, the muscles and tendons around the thumb joint are just as susceptible to repetitive stress injury as any other muscle/tendon group in the body.

The big question here is what can be done to heal texting thumb?

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

de quervain's tenosynovitis

Let’s begin with calling texting thumb by its real name. It’s a condition called De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is an overuse injury around the thumbs that creates inflammation in the tendons located in this area.

Causes:

Thumb movements that are performed repetitively, such as using the thumbs to constantly text and browse around on our smartphones, can irritate the thumb tendons and cause thumb pain.

It’s important to know though that other movements and repetitive stress injuries can cause De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Some of these activities may include one or more of the following:

  • Gaming (gamer’s thumb)

  • A mother picking up her baby frequently

  • Any sport that requires you to grip an object for an extended period (e.g., tennis)

Symptoms:

You may notice some or all of the following symptoms when texting thumb begins to set in:

  • Thumb pain at the base of the thumb

  • Pain along the thumb side of the wrist

  • Tenderness along the thumb or thumb side of the wrist

  • Difficulty moving the thumb, such as with gripping or pinching

  • Possible swelling along the thumb

  • Thumb twitching

Anatomy:

While we know what we’re doing is making the thumb hurt, it can help to know a little bit about the anatomy of it all.

The two primary thumb muscles involved with texting thumb are the extensor pollicis brevis and abductor pollicis longus. These muscles also cross at the wrist, which explains why you can have both thumb and wrist pain with texting thumb.

The action of these muscles is to move the thumb up and away from the hand, as well as move towards the little finger (pinky).

When you overuse the muscles, you can develop inflamed tendons. When this happens, the space normally present in the tendon sheath, which is what the tendon will run through, becomes smaller and more compact.


This narrow tunnel can cause rubbing and further irritation of the thumb tendons, leading to pain in the thumb muscles every time you move the thumb, especially with repetitive movements

How to Heal Texting Thumb

picture showing thumb pain from texting

If left untreated, the pain will typically get worse and can turn into chronic pain.

The good news is, there are many things you can do to help start the healing process!

Activity Modification:

Rest is one of the most important measures to take to relieve pain. Try to limit your thumb movement as much as possible.

Consider taking frequent breaks from your phone, switch hands when texting or dialing on your phone, and try to limit phone use altogether.

Ice:

Any time there’s concern for inflammation, it’s never a bad idea to bring out the ice.

While allowing the thumb some time to rest, go ahead and lay some ice on the area too. Keep it on there for up to 20 minutes maximum.

Compression or Bracing:

Some may find it necessary and comforting to use some type of a hand brace or thumb brace while healing.

This can be helpful to have on while using our cell phones and presents as a reminder while using our smartphone to avoid long periods of use.

Alternative Conservative Treatments

Additional options for conservative treatment will include anti inflammatory medication, a steroid injection, and exercise.

If you seek treatment from a medical professional, such as a hand surgeon or specialist in sports medicine, they may recommend you trial physical or occupational therapy for symptom relief.

Exercises

While in therapy, you likely will be prescribed some exercises to do specifically for the wrist and thumb.

We’ll take a look at a few basic texting thumb exercises you’re likely to see.

Stretching:

Wrist extension stretch

texting thumb treatment exercise 1: wrist extension stretch step 1
wrist extension stretch step 2
wrist extension stretch 3
  • Stretch your arm out in front of you with the fingers pointing forward.

  • Extend the wrist, pointing the fingers towards the ceiling (like you’re trying to give a high five).

  • Using the opposite hand, place it on the palm side of the other hand and give a gentle pull back until you feel a stretch.

  • Hold at least 30 seconds and up to 1 minute.

Wrist flexion stretch

de quervain's tenosynovitis exercises: wrist flexion stretch step 1
de quervain's tenosynovitis exercises :wrist flexion stretch step 2
de quervain's tenosynovitis exercises : wrist flexion stretch step 3
  • Stretch your arm out in front of you with the fingers pointing forward.

  • Flex the wrist, pointing the fingers towards the floor.

  • Using the opposite hand, place it on the top of the other hand and give a gentle push down until you feel a stretch.

  • Hold at least 30 seconds and up to 1 minute.

Thumb stretch

thumb stretch step 1
thumb stretch step 2
  • Position the hand so that the fingers are pointing straight forward, and the thumb is facing the ceiling.

  • Use the other hand to grab the thumb and slowly pull the thumb away from the palm side of the hand.

  • Once you feel a gentle stretch, hold at least 30 seconds and up to 1 minute.

If you are experiencing pain with any of the stretches, try to adjust the range and intensity of the stretch.

Strengthening:

Finger spring

thumb strengthening exercise: finger spring step 1
thumb strengthening exercise: finger spring step 2
  • Place a rubber band around all of the fingers.

  • Begin with the fingers pinched together, then slowly spread and open the fingers against the resistance of the rubber band.

  • Hold 3-5 seconds, then return to your starting position.

  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Thumb Opposition with the little finger

thumb strengthening exercise: thumb opposition with the little finger step 1
thumb strengthening exercise: thumb opposition with the little finger step 2
  • Place the hand flat on a table with the palm facing the ceiling.

  • Move the thumb towards the small finger.

  • Hold 3-5 seconds, then return to your starting position.

  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Grip squeeze

grip squeeze step 1
grip squeeze step 2
  • Wrap the fingers around a stress ball or towel.

  • Gently squeeze all fingers around the item.

  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.

  • Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Don’t Let Texting Thumb Get the Best of You

happy woman suggesting to treat texting  thumb conservatively right away.

If you’ve developed a texter’s thumb from your smartphone use, be sure to have it treated conservatively right away! The pain can be very easy to resolve as long as you take the proper steps.

Remember that rest and reducing your screen time on your phone are two of the most important steps to take. Our habitual and addictive smartphone use isn’t worth it if you’re having finger and/or wrist pain that’s not going away.

You can also try icing and possibly using a hand or thumb brace to help with pain control.

If you’ve tried to rest the affected finger, and your pain is still persisting, then go ahead and see your doctor. They may need to include anti inflammatory medications and/or steroid injections to assist with pain relief in the finger.

If it’s recommended to see a rehab specialist, be sure to follow their instructions to best address any limitations or restrictions in the wrists and hands. If they provide a home program, make sure to follow it as this can really make a difference and help you heal faster.

Let’s get a grip on texting thumb before it goes too far!

FAQ:

How do you know if you’re texting too much?

If you’re starting to get persistent pain in the thumb, or any other part of the wrist and hand, while you’re texting, then you’re likely texting too much.

If your pain gets better with rest and limiting the amount you’re texting, then this is another sign you’ve been texting too much.

How long does it take for texting thumb to go away?

Depending how long you’ve had your pain, it could take up to 4 weeks for the symptoms to fully resolve.

Does texting thumb require surgery?

Normally, no.

However, if your symptoms and pain become severe enough, you may need to consult with a hand surgeon for a simple procedure to release the pressure around the thumb tendons.

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