WhatsAppitis: Why you shouldn't overuse your smartphones

Dubai - The repetitive strain injury is a cause of concern in the medical fraternity

By Dr Sweta Adatia

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Published: Thu 10 Jun 2021, 3:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 5 Jul 2021, 3:16 PM

A necessity of modern life — smartphones have become an integral part of our lives and it’s almost impossible to think of a day without one. However, while it is our window to the world and keeps us connected, we must realise that evolution is a slow process. Our hands are yet to adapt to this swiftly rising use of smartphones in our day-to-day lives, which is causing it much stress. The repeated use of hands and wrists due to the demands of typing has led to the development of new forms of conditions, one of them being WhatsAppitis. Named after the popular messaging app, it falls in the category of repetitive strain injury (RSI) and is a gradual buildup of damage to the muscles, tendons and nerves from repetitive motions.

In fact, as per a study conducted by Nokia, it was observed that an average person checks their phone every 6.5 minutes in the 16 hours wake cycle, whereas the overwhelming amount of text message exchange and increased social media use is responsible for severe strain to our muscles and tendons. No matter how slow or fast one types, excessive typing is not good for the fingers and wrists. Indeed, prolonged typing on the computers has also been linked to problems with the wrist called carpal tunnel syndrome.

WhatsAppitis can be a form of tendinitis, tenosynovitis or a combination of both of these disorders. In either case, it means something is irritated, inflamed or swollen at the tendons. WhatsAppitis is technically known as De Quervain’s syndrome, BlackBerry thumb, gamer’s thumb, washerwoman’s sprain, radial styloid tenosynovitis, mother’s wrist, mommy thumb or teen texting tendonitis. Essentially, these are synonyms for the same condition.

The pain could begin at the wrist and radiate to the thumb or vice versa. It’s a serious injury, the pain is usually sudden, severe and can sometimes take several months to resolve. Furthermore, it not only impacts adults, as we often see young adults, teenagers and even children with symptoms of WhatsAppitis and related conditions, all due to the excessive use of smartphones, computers, tablets and other gaming devices.

The acute pain is treated with anti-inflammatory agents, muscle relaxants or some cartilage supplements. Physiotherapy, wrist brace and exercises are frequently advised.

We all know that prevention is always better than cure, and even though we are living in unprecedented times where technology is our biggest saviour, we shouldn’t forget the human body’s need to remain agile and active. While the use of technology is unavoidable, knowing the do’s and the don’ts can help prevent impending suffering.

Thanks to the adaptive mutations, transformation will take generations of smartphone or device use to adapt. Until then, we must be careful with our smartphone usage. Resistance exercises with stretching of the thumbs and rotation of wrists can help free them from stress and tension. Such exercises must become a part of modern life so that suffering from these preventable syndromes can be kept at bay.


While using smartphones, keep your wrists straight, try to hold your phone in both the hands rather than one

Do not use your phone for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Take stretch breaks from the phone and vary the digits used as you type.

Avoid marathon browsing or messaging sessions particularly sitting in awkward positions.

The use of heavier smartphones can further increase the risk of tendon injury, so choose lightweight phones instead.

In order to reduce the strain on your thumb, use the voice message function of popular messaging apps instead of typing the message.

A periodic ‘smartphone detox’ can also be beneficial.

Ideally, keep the laptop/computer 20-24 inches away from your eyes.

Follow the 20-20-20 rule — for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.


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