Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Increased computer workload, cell phone use and video games on hand-held consoles, controllers, desktops and cell phones have become increasingly popular. It gives people a chance to connect from places near and far with high-quality resolutions.
There is also an increasing number of patients coming into our clinic for pain in the wrists, carpal tunnel pain (read our blog on carpal tunnel here), and pain with thumb use, often called "Gamer's thumb" aka "Mommy's thumb" or "texting thumb." The formal diagnosis is called de Quervain's tenosynovitis. All of these are associated with the chronic use of our hands and pressing buttons and keys all day.
So what part of the body is causing this pain? Located in the first compartment of our hand and wrist, we have the abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis brevis. These are the culprits.
Symptoms and Causes of Gamer's Thumb
The main symptoms are pain and tenderness in the wrist. Pain and tenderness occur below the base of the thumb and/or on the top surface of the thumb from fingernail to wrist. It's often associated with a number of repetitive activities such as:
Use of a gaming console
Gripping and twist the wrist (such as a doorknob)
Carrying a baby
How to test for it: The Finkelstein's Test
To diagnose de Quervain's tenosynovitis, I will almost always recommend it's best to seek professional advice. We would test it with you by bending your thumb inside the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers over your thumb. Then we would bend your wrist toward the pinky finger side. If you experience pain with this, then you likely have it.
Preventing Gamer's Thumb
Limiting time spent gaming/text/typing/etc.
Taking breaks when you do these types of activities
Regular exercises for your wrists, hands and thumbs
Icing your wrists and hands
Gamer's Thumb Treatment
1. Rest! And cease activities ideally 4-6 weeks for proper recovery time. It's best to limit:
Texting and/or gaming (hence "texting thumb" and "Gamer's thumb")
Carrying a child
2. Physical Therapy
4. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes given
5. On rare occasion surgery is necessary
Hopefully, we can avoid the latter two with good old fashioned education and postural habit changes! If you find yourself suffering from these symptoms, ask a health care professional what you can be doing to rehab and revive!
Remember to heal smart, not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin