Put down that phone, cries elbow

Report says prolonged usage of cell phone can lead to elbow pain.

While the link between cell phone use and brain damage is still debatable (personally, I don't want to believe it), another body part may be paying the price for constant connectedness: the elbow.

According to health reports, doctors have identified a condition called "cell phone elbow," also known as cubital tunnel syndrome.

Oh no! Is she on her way to "cell phone elbow?" Dong Ngo/CNET

It's basically pain in your elbow that results from compression of the ulnar nerve. This nerve problem can come from spending too much time folding the elbow in an unnatural stance, such as when you use the computer in a nonergonomic position or, most commonly, when you hold the phone to your ear. I often do both at the same time.

Doctors say this is an increasingly common issue among those who are reliant on technology, especially cell phones. The syndrome leads to chronic or periodic pain in the elbow, tingling along the fingers, and even loss of strength and control in your hands.

When talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device, the elbow is usually held in an unnatural, flexed position, at an angle greater than 90 degrees. Generally, doctors caution that the elbow is not naturally designed to be hyperflexed for longer than 10 minutes at a time, but many of us regularly talk for hours on end.

Other, similar alarms have been sounded about gadget-related ailments, of course. Another, though supposedly less common, syndrome is the so-called " BlackBerry Thumb ," which refers to a repetitive stress injury from typing on those smartphones' tiny keyboards.

Personally, I found the "cellbow" reports a wake-up call, as more than once I have found my elbow extremely strained, as though it were strangely disconnected from me once I hung up the phone. Sometimes I've even had problems trying to operate a screwdriver after that.

Severe cases of cubital tunnel syndrome may require surgery, doctors say. Fortunately, most of the time, it can be cured through behavioral changes.

The easiest solution is using a hands-free device for prolonged calls. Most cell phones come with a headset, so use it. When a headset is not available, I suggest switching hands every few minutes.

Most of all, try to refrain from having long-distance relationships. And next time your elbow or fingers feel strange, maybe it's a better idea not to pick up the phone to call your doctor.

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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