People are apparently using their phones too much and getting 'numb thumbs'

Smartphones have become a regular part of our daily lives. We use them to text, tweet, and stream videos, and all of this requires the use of our fingers — more often than not, specifically our thumbs.

Nellie Bowles at The New York Times recently published an article called "Me and My Numb Thumb: A Tale of Tech, Texts and Tendons." In it, Bowles talks about how, as she's continued to use her phone day after day, she's discovered a pain in her right thumb. She calls this "a depressingly modern condition in which the tendons around the thumb inflame as a result of repetitive strain," but one day, it got pretty serious —

Eventually, my right thumb just stopped working. It could not muster the strength to press down on my phone. It was both numb and achy. And the pain that had started in my hand was now shooting down my arm. I had a problem, one I later learned was becoming common.

Bowles says she soon discovered that many of her co-workers and friends had experienced similar issues, and after speaking with her doctor, discovered she may have a condition called De Quervain's Tendinosis. This is caused when a tendon is overused due to repetitive motions/actions, and as Bowles continues —

"It's a crisis," said Sanjeev Kakar, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota who specializes in hand injuries and has seen an increase in the number of thumb "overuse cases." Dr. Kakar said he had noticed that the condition was spreading among adults and older people in particular.

Bowles also reached out to Professor of Communication Nancy Ann Cheever from California State University, who said —

We assume teenagers are using their phones more, but it's actually not the case, because younger people tend to have a lot more awareness of their smartphone use. They have a more complete understanding of the harmful effects of smartphone use because they've been taught about it since they were kids.

I've personally never experienced anything along these lines, but a couple of my family members have previously complained about their hands and thumbs hurting from holding/using their phones as often as they do.

What about you? Do you have numb thumbs? Let us know (if you can) in the comments below 👍

Phone addiction is making me sad and anxious, but so is the idea of quitting

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • The only thumbness I have ever gotten is from my poor little left finger where my phone always rests on. My thumbs have no problems tapping away.
  • same here except it's my little right finger my phone rest on, it doesn't hurt and I've never experienced numbness in it but where it rest is where the USB port is plus I have an Otter box case and the imprint of the case is on my little finger but that spot in the case does help me secure the phone better with one hand lol but my thumb is fine. I'm thinking this person in the article and the people who claimed to have the same problem have probably already had arthritis and would have experienced that pain regardless of what they used their hands for.
  • Hmmm maybe that's what's happening when I'm watching porn...
  • thats carpal tunnel
  • lmao nice one
  • This goes to show how physically weak people have become. Soy generation will complain about everything.
  • Yep. My Grandfather never ever complained of numb thumbs from using his mobile before he died in 1983. They don't make them like they used to eh
  • Fuzzylumpkin likes this.
  • Lol, that's funny. I bet you really believe that too.
  • Don't worry, humans will evolve to have lobster claws for thumbs soon so they can type better on their phones.
  • Don't be dumb, put your numb thumb up your bum.
  • I'm too sober for that. Maybe after some rum.
  • +1
  • Shoot! I sat on some gum!!
  • I was going to hum a tune about this but I'll just stay mum and eat a plum.
  • Perhaps I've pre-conditioned my thumbs from playing video games for the past 30 years. No numb thumbs for this guy.
  • Ditto, gamers' thumbs don't get tired over baby tapping screens.
  • No thumb numbness, a lifetime of video games is probably to thank... A phone is nothing compared to the crippling design of an NES controller. I do think I'm developing a slight deformation in my left little finger from the way I hold my phone though... Maybe those stupid rings aren't so stupid after all.
  • Same here except for my right little finger
  • I am a Southpaw! (Well, an ambi technically, but I favour the left). I think we also share a birth year (bloody millennials!), our fates may be inexorably linked...
  • Fellow southpaw here.
  • "because younger people tend to have a lot more awareness of their smartphone use. They have a more complete understanding of the harmful effects of smartphone use"
    I needed a good laugh today; if younger people could pry themselves away from their cellphones they might be able to look up while they're driving.
  • Plenty of "old people" do the same. Texting and driving, or texting and being distracted from anything isn't age specific lol.
  • Screw texting and driving, I've moved beyond that and now strap my 3ds to my steering wheel and play Mario kart while driving. Now that's a challenge.
  • You are all soft. Turn a wrench once in a while.
  • Can I turn a spanner instead? :D
  • Had to look spanner up. Lol
  • You learn something new every day! I'm sorry yours wasn't very useful today lol. It can also be used as a derogatory term for someone who is being a bit stupid, IE "I said pass me the 3/4 inch wrench and you've given me a 5/8 you spanner!"
  • I regularly use pipe wrenches at work(I work in a steam plant). Now let me eat my avocado toast in peace.
  • Give "em a car with no power steering.... That oughta help!
  • And a manual gear box
  • Yeah, you just need to exercise those thumbs while using your mobile. Get a BlackBerry Key2. 😝
  • Thumbs-Up for this article!! Oh... wait....
  • My thumbs get a little hot but not numb.
  • I think playing console games over the years stopped me from dealing with this? PSOne, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, DreamCast and I had a GameBoy Advance SP too. I also had a Nintendo DS Lite for a moment too, that pink color was really cute.
    That's a decent period of time for the thumbs.
    My hand gets tired of holding my phone more than my thumb ever goes numb.
  • I just get a tingly feelings in my hand after one and a half hours of holding it in landscape mode... nothing more than that.
  • I have carpal and cubital nerve damage in both my arms. My phone didn't cause it but it sometimes brings on or makes the symptoms worse.. But yeah I've had my thumbs get so sore it's painful to touch them. Just figured lt was O L D disease.
  • jus put the phone down. seriously. if you use your phone so much your thumbs go numb, you need a life.
    ever thought about putting the phone down and having a conversation with friends or family, you know, face to face....
  • The irony of you typing this out in a public forum right now lol
  • Could have been on a computer
  • Played sports as a kid... Endless summers on the golf course, etc... And a skilled tradesman for a career. Poor keyboarding posture for professionals on computers... Obviously it can happen. In my line of work, a titanium hammer is a Godsend. But no.... Lol, no smartphone thumb issues.... And I'm a one right thumb typer... Lol, make use of predictive text kids.... Or actually try and add some physical activity to your life. Really, you don't have to crash your thumb on a display... You are either doing it wrong, lol.... Or yeah, maybe your phone is too big for you?... I suspect the problem is a near total lack of physical activity and regular, break a sweat physical exercise or exertion.
  • BlackBerry thumb has come back!!!!!!!! 😏
  • No problems with thumbs, but then I use swipe or my index and middle fingers to tap things out when swipe is acting insane. My pinky used to get tired when I had a metal phone, but glass is easier for skin to grip and I don't use my pinky for support any more. I think it does help that I use my hands a lot and stay fairly active. I'm surprised my wife doesn't have sore thumbs because she texts so much. Only time her hands get sore is from handcuffs ;)
  • I use my phone a lot, but I've never experienced numb thumbs. I wouldn't be surprised if my phone (combined with hours of typing at work) caused vision and hand issues later in life, though.
  • My thumbs are too fat to do anything on a phone... So no. I text one handed with my left or right index fingers. Its really slow My cousin complains about her thumbs being sore from texting.
  • What about speaking into the phone for text to speech once in awhile? But of course only when you're alone.
  • I don’t use my thumb to interact with the phone, i almost always use it two-handed..