By Sara Calabro
Digitally induced thumb pain is becoming a 21st century epidemic.
The catch-all term “BlackBerry thumb” has come to designate the phenomenon, but it actually refers to thumb pain acquired from overuse of any mobile device. It turns out, the familiar cupped-palm-with-busily-dancing-thumbs position wreaks havoc on our first digit.
Typing on mobile devices involves a lot of repetitive motions. The same hand and arm muscles—the ones required to flex, extend, adduct and abduct the thumb—are constantly working to accommodate our communication needs. Over time, these overworked muscles can develop trigger points, sensitive nodules in the skeletal musculature that cause referred pain.
To address BlackBerry thumb, acupuncturists release trigger points in the hand and arm muscles while simultaneously addressing the perpetuating factors that cause these painful nodules to form.
BlackBerry thumb is screaming for acupuncture
A treatment option that gets to the root of the problem is especially important for a condition like BlackBerry thumb. The age-old advice to rest isn’t very sound in this case.
After all, the people who develop BlackBerry thumb are usually the ones for whom detaching from their mobile device is the most inconceivable. And even for those who are able to take a break, the trigger points are likely to reactivate once frequent thumb movement resumes.
Pain medications and cortisone shots are Band-Aid solutions as well, because they mask symptoms rather than addressing the underlying issue.
In contrast to these commonly prescribed and rarely effective mainstream treatment options, acupuncture goes right to the source.
Common triggers of thumb pain
Although located in the forearm, the flexor pollicis longus directly relates to the thumb. It attaches to the base of the thumb and therefore allows for flexion of the tip of the thumb. Trigger points in the flexor pollicis longus refer pain through the entire thumb to the tip, sometimes giving the sensation that pain is actually extending beyond the finger.
These muscles, located in the web between the thumb and index finger, are constantly working during mobile typing because of the cupped-palm position that most of us use to hold our devices. The adductor pollicis brings the thumb toward the index finger, and the opponens pollicis brings the thumb toward the pinkie.
In Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, a book written before the proliferation of mobile devices, author Janet Travell says trigger points in the adductor pollicis and opponens pollicis are caused by “prolonged pincer gripping, as when sewing, weeding, writing longhand, and opening jar tops.”
Texting is the modern-day pincer-grip activity. Trigger points in the adductor pollicis and opponens pollicis refer pain to the inside of the thumb and palm, and sometimes down into the wrist.
These muscles, located in the arm, also may play a role in BlackBerry thumb, but their function has less direct relevance to thumb movement. Flexor pollicis longus, adductor pollicis and opponens pollicis are the primary suspects in cases of BlackBerry thumb.
Mobile is the fastest-growing area of technology. People are not getting rid of their BlackBerrys and other mobile devices anytime soon. Thankfully, we have acupuncture to get rid of the pain they cause.
Photo by Sara Calabro; trigger-point images from Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual
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