How to Avoid Texting Thumb

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 26, 2024
4 min read

About 85% of Americans own a smartphone. You might even be reading this on your smartphone now. 

Doctors say they’re seeing more cases of pain and swelling in people’s thumbs because of smartphone use.

Does your thumb hurt when you’re using your smartphone? You might have texting thumb.

When you text or use your smartphone, you’re making repetitive movements and putting your thumb through a wide range of motion. Your thumb isn’t really designed for these types of movements.

A study of 387 university students found that heavy smartphone users tend to have mild pain and stiffness in their thumbs or wrists.

Texting thumb is not a clearly defined condition. The term may refer to either trigger thumb or de Quervain’s tenosynovitis

Trigger thumb is a condition that causes a feeling of locking when you bend and straighten your finger. It’s also known as trigger finger. It can affect any of your fingers and your thumb or more than one at a time. 

Tendons connect the bones in your thumb and fingers to the muscles in your wrist and forearm. Each tendon is protected by a sheath. Trigger finger happens when this sheath becomes inflamed.

You have a higher risk of developing trigger thumb if you:

Symptoms. The symptoms of trigger thumb include:

  • Popping or clicking feeling when you move your thumb 
  • Your thumb catching or locking in a bent position
  • Painful to bend or straighten your thumb 
  • Stiffness in your thumb, especially in the morning
  • A bump or tenderness at the base of your thumb

Diagnosis. Your doctor should be able to diagnose trigger thumb based on your medical history and a physical exam. They will ask you to open and close your hand. They’ll also check for swelling, pain, and other signs of locking.

This is a condition where the tendons around the base of your thumb are swollen and painful. It's also known as de Quervain's tendinosis. It’s especially painful when you make a fist, turn your wrist, or grip something.

Experts don’t know the exact cause of de Quervain's tenosynovitis. You might be more at risk if you’re:

  • Female
  • Between the ages of 30 and 50
  • Pregnant
  • Lifting a baby while using your thumbs for support

Symptoms. The symptoms of de Quervain's tenosynovitis include:

  • Pain or swelling near the base of your thumb
  • A feeling of “sticking” in your thumb when you move it
  • Difficulty moving your thumb and wrist when pinching or grasping

Diagnosis. Your doctor may use the Finkelstein test to see if you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis. You’ll be asked to make a fist with your fingers closed over your thumb, then to bend your wrist toward your little finger. 

You’ll have pain on the thumb side of your wrist if you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis.

If you have trigger thumb or de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, the goal of your treatment will be to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain.

Rest is important. If you continue to use your thumb, the inflammation will continue. Ice can also help the pain. Place an ice pack on your wrist for 15 minutes every 4 to 6 hours.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen can help with the pain. Check with your doctor for dosage and frequency.

You can also try wearing a hand brace that supports your thumb and wrist. Depending on your case, your doctor might recommend wearing it only for pain. Or, they might recommend that you wear a brace continuously for 4 to 6 weeks.

Your doctor may also recommend some stretching exercises to help with your pain. You may also want to consult a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

If these treatments aren’t working, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection. Corticosteroids or cortisone can be injected into the tendon sheath at the base of your affected finger or thumb. It can take several weeks for your symptoms to improve. 

If a second steroid injection doesn’t work, you may need surgery. During this surgery, your doctor will open up the tendon sheath to release one of the bands of tissue that’s blocking tendon movement. After your surgery, it may take 4 to 6 weeks for the swelling and stiffness to go away. 

Here are some ways to avoid getting text thumb:

  • Improve your posture: Support your forearms when you use your smartphone.
  • Don't use your thumb all the time: Hold your phone in one hand and use your index finger on the other hand to text or scroll. 
  • Keep your messages short: Use abbreviations and predictive text instead of typing every letter.
  • Record a voice message or make a phone call instead of texting a message.
  • Try not to text too fast. 
  • Set up alerts on your phone to keep track of your usage.
  • If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop using your phone and rest your hands.

Stretching exercises. Try some stretching exercises to keep your hands flexible. Here are a few you can try.

Exercise 1:

  1. Using gentle pressure, use your index finger on your other hand to stretch your thumb back.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat a few times. Do this 20 times a day 

Exercise 2:

  1. Place an elastic band around your fingers and thumb.
  2. Gently move your thumb against the band.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 3:

  1. Place your hand on a table.
  2. Keep your hand still.
  3. Move your thumb out to the side as far as you can.
  4. Move your thumb back to your fingers.
  5. Repeat 5 to 10 times.