Young people showing signs of 'WhatsAppitis' due to smartphone use, says UAE hospital

Tapping out thousands of messages can lead to repetitive strain injury

Constant texting and typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, characterised by pain, tingling, burning, and numbness in the thumb and fingers. Alamy Photo
Constant texting and typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, characterised by pain, tingling, burning, and numbness in the thumb and fingers. Alamy Photo

Constant typing on WhatsApp and social media has led to an increase in wrist complaints and repetitive strain injuries, a UAE hospital said.

Medics use the phrase ‘WhatsAppitis’ to describe a common issue related to muscle and tendon damage caused by repetitive motions.

RAK Hospital said up to 10 people per month showed such symptoms, with some young patients admitting to checking phone screens up to 100 times a day.

“We cannot deny that smartphones are now an integral part of our life and it’s hard to think of a day without them,” said Dr Sweta Prakash Adatia, a specialist neurologist and medical director at RAK Hospital.

Severe pain in wrists and thumbs, which can sometimes be radiated to the forearm, can be a sign of WhatsAppitis. It’s a pretty serious injury

Dr Sweta Prakash Adatia, RAK Hospital

“Text messaging is causing injuries without people realising it.

“Prolonged and repetitive movements can result in tendon inflammation and injury.

“Severe pain in wrists and thumbs, which can sometimes radiate to the forearm, can be a sign of WhatsAppitis. It’s a pretty serious injury.”

The term WhatsAppitis was first used in the medical journal The Lancet in 2014.

The average smartphone user spends three to four hours on screened devices each day. The pandemic has only extended that because of detachment from social circles and round-the-clock attachment to work.

Excessive use of smartphones can increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Echoes of 'Nintendinitis'

The problem is characterised by pain, tingling, burning, and numbness along the area of the thumb, index, middle and ring finger.

Arthritis of the joints at the base of the thumb, tenosynovitis or ‘gamer’s thumb’ – known as Nintendinitis – are other conditions linked to overuse of devices.

Nintendinitis was first described in 1990, and since then several types of injuries associated with video games and new technologies have been reported.

The injuries are also now seen more commonly in adults with tenosynovitis caused by texting on mobile phones or long periods on a laptop.

Doctors recommend an ergonomic mouse for people who use laptops for prolonged periods to avoid similar problems.

Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants or some cartilage supplements can also help.

Wearing a wrist brace, physiotherapy and rehabilitation are other remedies.

“The pain is usually quite severe while mobility could also become an issue and may take several months to resolve,” said Dr Adatia.

“Even though there are no official figures published so far, what I can say about our facility is that we see at least 8-10 cases a month on average between the orthopaedic and neurology clinics.

“In addition to adults, many teenagers and young children are also presenting the symptoms as they spend a lot of time playing video games, texting or using computers.”

Updated: June 8, 2021 11:23 PM

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