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BlackBerry Thumb: Real Illness or Just Dumb?

IC Pain 4U: Thumb Malady Said to Strike Frequent Text Messagers

BlackBerry Thumb: Tendinitis, Aggravated Arthritis

What kinds of injuries are possible?

"BlackBerry users include a significant segment of the population old enough to be developing arthritis - and this can aggravate it," Benhaim says. "And there different types of tendinitis. One is trigger thumb.trigger thumb. The other is de Quervain's tenosynovitis, involving the tendons on the side of the wrist right where the forearm joins the wrist. These tendons participate in controlling the thumb and are very sensitive to repetitive motions."

These kinds of injuries are not new. Back in the 1980s, these injuries had a different name - and a different blame, says hand-injury specialist Gary McGillivary, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedics at Atlanta's Emory University.

"This is like what they used to write about Nintendo thumb - they called it nintendonitis," McGillivary tells WebMD.

Video game players have sometimes come down with rather serious injuries, says David A. Allan, MD, PhD, director of the repetitive strain injury center and supervisor of occupational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia.

"I saw one kid who just played and played video games for seven hours at a stretch," Allan tells WebMD. "His thumb was only a small portion of his problem - his whole arm was affected." Allen says the child had nerve damage in his shoulder as well.

But it's rare for repeat motion injuries to involve long-lasting nerve damage, Allan says.

BlackBerry Thumb Rx: Rest Your Weary Digits

What's the treatment for BlackBerry thumb? Lay off thumb typing, the experts tell WebMD.

"If they have true tendinitis, I might give them a cortisone shot," Benhaim says. "Or I might use a thumb brace, maybe. I would certainly tell them to rest it. And then to minimize the stress and strain. Do more typing on your keyboard and then sync over to your BlackBerry rather than typing longer messages on BlackBerry itself."

Merchandisers have been quick to cash in on the trend. Several thumb splints and glove-type treatments are available. But Allan warns that these quick cures may actually aggravate the problem.

"With the thumb splint, it is very iffy that it will change the mechanics of the motion to make it better. And it might make it worse," he says.

BlackBerry Thumb Epidemic?

All the media fuss might lead you to think that there's an epidemic under way. Not so, Benhaim says.

"I do not think it is as big a deal as people say. I've seen video-game thumbs a lot, but no there's no epidemic," he says.

In fact, none of the hand experts who spoke with WebMD has seen a single patient with BlackBerry thumb.

"I haven't seen it," says Benhaim.

"I haven't seen any patients with this," says McGillivary.

"Nobody has yet been referred to me with BlackBerry thumb," says Allan.

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