Q&A Topic: Are Your Mobile Devices Triggering Arthritis of the Hand or Wrist?

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How to keep this painful condition at bay.

Dr. Ari Mayerfield, MD

Q: Could I have arthritis of the hand or wrist?

A: You may have developed arthritis if you’re experiencing pain, loss of motion, swelling, difficulty performing everyday tasks — such as turning a key or opening a jar – weakness of the hands, or a tendency to drop objects due to sudden pain.

Q: What exactly is hand and wrist arthritis?

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A: The underlying cause of osteoarthritis is the deterioration of the protective layer of cartilage at the ends of two bones meeting at a joint. Without this layer, bone grinds on bone, causing joint inflammation and pain. The hand, with its 27 bones – many moving parts in close proximity — offers great potential for the development of arthritis. It develops in different spots in the hand and wrist: most commonly the last joint in each finger, and the base of thumb, and other locations.  The condition usually worsens over time.   

Q: What causes it?

A: Usually ordinary wear and tear. In recent times, repetitive stress from the increasing use of computers, smartphones and other hand-operated technologies is making people particularly vulnerable to arthritis of the hand and wrist joints. Here are a few examples of behaviors to avoid: typing on a smartphone screen rather than a larger keyboard, typing at fast speeds for prolonged periods, and typing one-handed.  Stressing the hand with these repetitive movements can increase your risk of developing arthritis later in life.

Q: Are there remedies for hand and wrist arthritis?

A:  Let’s start with non-surgical strategies. Hand therapy, consisting of guided exercises with a certified hand therapist, may improve symptoms. NWH’s Chappaqua Crossing rehab center offers this therapy.  Joint injections with a steroid or hyaluronic acid (a substance that lubricates the joints), relieve pain in some people. Using braces on your hand and/or wrist can also reduce pain. Surgical remedies range from fusing the inflamed joint – joining two adjacent bones to eliminate grinding — to more sophisticated implants. The general goal of surgery is to eradicate pain; often we sacrifice a little flexibility in order to obtain a pain-free joint. 

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Q: What can I do to prevent it?

A: Give your thumb a break! Use the other fingers. If you’re lifting something heavy, don’t pinch it between thumb and forefinger; use all your fingers. When using an electronic device, keep your hand in line with your forearm rather than keeping your wrist contorted. For long documents, use both hands for typing.  Try resting your hands entirely by dictating into your phone rather than typing. Type all long documents and emails on a computer rather than a smartphone, as using all ten fingers puts less strain on your thumbs. Remember: When you’re starting to avoid using a painful hand, it’s time to consult with a hand surgeon. Treating arthritis earlier can usually gives patients more options for treatment.

The care and safety of our community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is Northern Westchester Hospital’s top priority. We have put maximum safety measures in place to prevent exposure to the coronavirus for anyone who comes to the Hospital for emergent or scheduled care.

Learn More About Dr. Ari Mayerfield, MD
Director of Hand Surgery
Northern Westchester Hospital

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