'BlackBerry Thumb' Newest PT Malady

September 11, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - If extended use of your hand-held communications device leaves your thumb throbbing, take comfort in knowing you are not alone.

The Alexandria, Virginia-based American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has dubbed the phenomenon “BlackBerry Thumb” – a title to describe the pain and numbness some BlackBerry warriors suffer after extended use, according to an APTA news release.

“The use of PDAs (personal digital assistants) is no longer limited to the eight hours spent in the workplace,” said Margot Miller, a physical therapist with WorkWell Systems and president of APTA’s Occupational Health Special Interest Group, in the news release. “More and more, people are depending on these devices to stay in touch with friends and family before and after the workday and on the weekends, as well as having access to work when they leave the office; that is where the heart of the problem lies.”

Miller points out that those who use their PDA for more than short intervals, several times a day are more likely to develop symptoms ranging from swelling and hand throbbing to tendonitis. In addition, overuse can aggravate underlying arthritis. “Because the keyboard of a PDA is so small and because the thumb, which is the least dexterous part of the hand, is overtaxed (for faster typing), the risk of injury skyrockets,” Miller said in the release.

Those who fall victim to this modern office malady can take steps to alleviate the problem. Typical treatments include applying ice to the affected area, stretching, using a properly fitted thumb splint, and possibly a cortisone injection.


The APTA offers the following tips on how to avoid “BlackBerry Thumb”:

  • Take frequent breaks from your PDA. Do not type for more than a few minutes at a time.
  • Write fewer and shorter messages. Learn to abbreviate your responses.
  • Try to avoid thumb typing. Use your other fingers to type.
  • If possible, place a support in your lap when using a PDA, so that your wrists are in a more upright position and not flexed or bent.

The APTA also recommends the following simple exercises:

  • Tap each finger with the thumb of the same hand. Repeat five times.
  • Alternate tapping the palm of your hand and the back of your hand against your thigh as quickly as you can. Repeat 20 times.
  • Open your hands and spread your fingers as far apart as possible. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
  • Fold your hands together, and turn your palms away from your body as you extend your arms forward. You should only feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.
  • Fold your hands together, turn your palms away from your body, and extend your arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in your upper torso and shoulders to hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat eight times.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is a national professional organization representing more than 66,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students.