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Texting Tendonitis

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There are advantages to living in the digital age, faster computers and instant communication with our smart phones just to name a few. But KUNC commentator Dr. Marc Ringel says there is a clear medical disadvantage associated with staying connected.


If I’d gone to medical school with more experience and maturity under my belt I suppose I’d have learned more.  But I went right after I finished college, around my 21st birthday.  Besides exempting me from the draft at the height of the Vietnam War, there was another advantage to learning medicine while still wet behind the ears.  When I went through the pathology course, an exhaustive survey of everything that can go wrong with the human body, one excruciating disease at a time, I could feel some reassurance that the vast majority of these catastrophes happened to people who were way older than I, sparing me a bit of the mental anguish that comes with confronting, as students of medicine do day after day, the fragility of existence.

Now, in my seventh decade, the list of maladies that I’m not a candidate for is a lot shorter than the ones likely to do me in.  My increased inventory of aches and pains reminds me every day of my mortality.  But there are still a few afflictions, besides measles and croup that thanks to my age, I am not subject to.

One of them is texting tendonitis, a diagnosis I first learned about in the February issue of The Journal of Family Practice.  The article reported the case of a 14 year-old girl who visited her family doctor complaining of throbbing pain in the right thumb.  She had not traumatized her thumb playing a sport or in any other way she could think of.  The girl did admit to texting about four hours a day for the last two years.  She was on her family’s unlimited SMS (short message service) cell phone plan.

The doctor diagnosed inflammation of one of the tendons that moves the thumb.  The patient got better with a splint, aspirin, ice, and instructions to limit her texting to 45 minutes a day.

After two weeks the girl’s thumb was much better.  She had switched over to instant messaging via computer, where she could use all ten digits to input her messages on a keyboard, which probably explains how the child’s parents accomplished this colossal feat of social deprivation, sort of like substituting methadone for heroin.

The thumb is a complicated gizmo with multiple moving parts.  There have been reports of several different tendon and joint afflictions of the first digit as the result of overuse in mobile phone texting.  My age protects me from this series of maladies, not because my protoplasm is more robust than that of a 14 year-old.  I have little doubt that, were I to text for four hours straight, I’d have tendonitis before the sun set.  Rather, my age protects me because, as a rule, my generation just ain’t much into texting.

As a doctor who has spent a large part of my career in small town practice, I’ve hesitated adopting any technology that makes me even more available.  Now I suppose I have yet another reason to be very sparing in whom I share my mobile phone number with.  With all the other pathologies that my age makes me susceptible to I just don’t want to add texting tendonitis to the list.


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