Blackberry® Thumb

Oct 21

A noticeable emergence of new physical conditions seems to arise with the invention of any new and popular technology.  For example, computer mouse usage led to the familiarity of the condition called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), characterized by wrist and hand pain, as well as numbness and in more severe cases, weakness of the afflicted hand.  As overall awareness increased and ergonomic improvements were made to the design of the mouse, there seemed to be a decrease in the number of complaints of CTS.

Allergic to Blackberries?

ENTER the Blackberry®.  The invention of the Blackberry® and its ever increasing popularity has led to a new era of increasing wrist and hand pain.  If you’ve heard the term, but still don’t know exactly what this popular fruit is, the Blackberry® is a handheld smart phone with built in personal digital assistant (PDA), and famous for its wireless email handling feature. It’s been referred to tongue-in-cheek as the ‘Crackberry’ related to its highly addictive nature.

Just look around you at your next meeting or during your next subway ride and take notice of how many people are clicking away at their Blackberry®.  At my New York City chiropractic office, I see patients in the waiting room thumbing away at their Blackberry® all day long.  Even when they are in a treatment room, coming in complaining of severe hand and wrist pain, they occasionally will interrupt their medical history to check their Blackberry®.  In some extreme cases, patients will even thumb out emails while receiving physiotherapy.

Chronic Repetition is the Problem

Many doctors, ranging from primary care doctors to chiropractors and physical therapists, are noticing an alarming increase in patients complaining about pain in their hands, especially in their thumb region.   Most of us began to name the condition “Blackberry® Thumb”.  Blackberry® thumb is characterized by pain in the thenar region of the hand, which are the muscles that move the thumb.  The chronic irritation of these muscles due to overuse can be classified as a Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) or a Repetitive Motion Injury, much like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or the old ‘Tennis Elbow’.

As a certified provider of Active Release Techniques® (A.R.T.), I identify and treat many forms of CTDs on a regular basis.  Dr. P. Michael Leahy, D.C., the creator A.R.T. relates the CTD to changes in muscles and the soft-tissue affected by the repetitive motion involved, in this particular case overuse of the thumb.  The muscles and soft-tissue can accumulate thick and dense scar tissue that eventually restricts the normal movement of the area affected. As the scar tissue continues to build up, the affected muscles and tendons can become short and weak, which may result in conditions such as tendonitis, and nerve entrapments.  This build-up of scar tissue may result in a reduction of the normal range of motion, as well as a loss of strength and pain in the area.  If there is nerve involvement, people may also complain of numbness and tingling.

Active Release Technique® Provides Relief

As a chiropractor, I treat many patients utilizing Active Release Technique®.  Active Release helps to reduce the scar tissue and fibrous adhesions that have formed due to injury to restore function and decrease pain in the area of chronic injury. However, if patients do not alter the habits that resulted in the cause of this “Blackberry® Thumb” condition, the problem may likely reoccur.  Since it is highly unlikely that my patients who have become dependent on these devices will stop using them, I strongly recommend participation in daily stretches to their thumb and wrist muscles.  Self stretching may help reduce some of the chronic tightness that leads to these problems, as well as a way to avoid these difficult conditions from beginning at all.  It is recommended that if you already experience chronic hand, wrist or thumb pain, that you should seek out a professional medical opinion before beginning any self treatment program.

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