Gaming Thumb and Text Neck – Is It Really a Thing?

Kaitlynn BoninHands, Neck pain, Physiotherapy

You probably think of gaming, texting, or using your smartphone in general, as a sedentary activity with not much risk of injury, but you would be mistaken. Unnatural, repetitive thumb and wrist movements paired with poor posture over long hours every day can lead to overuse injuries.

Text Neck or Gamer’s Neck

Over 86% of Canadians own a smartphone, which means there’s a lot of texting going on. 46% of Canadians play games on their smartphones, and 77% of kids between six and 17 play online games weekly. Many people sit for hours slouched in a chair looking down at their phones or devices while gaming, and most people crane their necks downward while texting or using their smartphone, whether sitting or standing. All of that can take a toll on your body, causing tension and strain on your muscles that can lead to chronic health problems down the road. 

Posture plays an important role in how efficiently your muscles, breathing, and mobility works. If you have poor posture, your muscles have to work harder to hold your body up, breathe, and just move in general, leaving you susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries. If it’s not corrected when you’re younger, it can to other issues as you age. 

Ways to Avoid Text Neck or Gamer’s Neck

  • Eliminate, or at least limit games played on your phone, as that almost always causes you to hunch over
  • Make sure your screen is at eye level – that way you’re looking at the top third of your screen so you’re not hunched over
  • Stretch before you start playing
  • Sit in a chair that has good back support and even a headrest – your spine should be straight with your lower back against the back of the chair, your feet flat on the floor shoulder-width apart, and your shoulders down and back with your chin tucked in slightly
  • Set a timer to check your posture every 30-45 minutes
  • Take a break whenever your timer goes off – get up, walk around, stretch, breathe (breathing exercises can help reset your posture), get a healthy snack, and drink some water; this will help improve your blood circulation which also improves your reaction speed (you could also use the Straighten Up Canada app, with short videos on movement and posture)
  • Pay attention to your body – don’t push yourself to the limit
  • Everything in moderation – make technology free times when you’re not using your phone

Texting or Gaming Thumb

Smartphones aren’t ergonomically designed to be doing repetitive movements for large parts of the day, and yet, that’s exactly how they’re being used. Years and years of repetitive hand and wrist movement required by texting and gaming could lead to pain, tendinitis, or possibly osteoarthritis, which already has a high occurrence in the thumb. In fact, texting thumb has an official name: de Quervain’s syndrome.

Ways to Avoid Texting Thumb or Gaming Thumb

  • Break up your tasks so not everything is on your phone (email, calendar, social media, reading the news, etc.)
  • Use voice dictation instead of texting when possible
  • Switch hands (which can help strengthen the non-dominant part of the brain)
  • Stretch by opening and closing your fingers and rotating your wrists
  • Use an app to track how often you use your phone and decrease that time
  • Schedule “technology free” times each day – the best thing you can do is reduce the amount of time on your smartphone because the muscles and tendons are overused and need a break 

If you have difficulty grasping your phone as you usually do, take it as a sign your body is telling you that you need a break. The pain will keep coming back unless you start practicing good ergonomics, including posture, and modifying how you use your phone, and how often. Listen to your body and your future self will thank you.

If you’re suffering from neck pain from looking down at a screen or pain in your thumbs caused by repetitive motion, or if you’d like help improving your posture, our physiotherapists are here for you. Book an appointment with a pt Health physiotherapist near you!


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