If your nighttime ritual involves holding your phone to your face and scrolling through Twitter or watching a couple (dozen) YouTube videos, you may notice your arm hurts the next day.
That pain has a name: “cell phone elbow,” medically known as ulnar nerve entrapment or cubital tunnel syndrome. Simply put, keeping an arm flexed for hours while holding a phone can put some serious strain on the ulnar nerve. This stress can stretch and constrict the nerve while limiting its blood supply.
What’s happening to your arm?
The ulnar nerve runs the length of the arm, from neck to little finger, and it’s the largest nerve in the human body not protected by muscle or bone. It gives sensation to your pinky and ring fingers and the portion of your palm beneath those digits. The most common place for this nerve to bind up is in that little groove on the outside of your elbow—the area you may know as your “funny bone.”
This can happen whenever your body remains in a flexed, static position for too long. “Motion is life,” says chiropractor Rudy Gehrman, noting that our relatively immobile lives make us susceptible to repetitive stress injuries like strained or pinched nerves. That stress creates microtraumas as muscles, ligaments, and tendons all start to stretch or compress in ways they are not supposed to, he explains.
In the case of cell phone elbow, continually flexing your arm stretches the ulnar nerve, which can cause tingling or numbness in your outer fingers. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent nerve damage and muscle degradation.
How to treat cubital tunnel syndrome without surgery
Preventing arm pain requires a multi-faceted approach that involves both ergonomic adjustments and targeted exercises. One important aspect is maintaining good posture while using your phone. Ensure that your neck, shoulders, and arms are properly aligned and supported. Avoid hunching over or slouching, as this places unnecessary strain on the muscles and nerves in your arms. Keep your phone at eye level to minimize neck and shoulder tension and to promote a more natural position for your arms.
Taking regular breaks from phone use is crucial for relieving stress on the arms and preventing arm pain. Set reminders to take short breaks every 30 minutes or so. During these breaks, perform simple stretching exercises to release tension in the muscles. Gently rotate your wrists, flex and extend your fingers, and stretch your arms and shoulders. These exercises help improve blood circulation, reduce muscle fatigue, and alleviate the risk of developing arm pain.
Additionally, incorporating strength and flexibility exercises into your routine can help prevent arm pain. Focus on exercises that target the muscles in your arms, such as wrist curls, forearm stretches, and shoulder rolls. Strengthening these muscles will provide better support and stability, reducing the strain on your arms during phone use. Engaging in regular exercise and maintaining overall physical fitness will also contribute to better arm health and reduce the likelihood of experiencing pain.
Proper ergonomics extend beyond phone use. Take a comprehensive approach to your workstation setup to minimize the risk of arm pain. Ensure your desk and chair are at the correct height, allowing your arms to rest comfortably while typing or using your phone. Consider using an ergonomic keyboard and mouse to promote a more neutral wrist position. Use wrist rests to provide support and cushioning during prolonged typing sessions.
If you already experience arm pain or discomfort, it’s essential to seek appropriate treatment. Resting the affected arm, applying ice packs, or using over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief. However, for persistent or severe pain, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatments such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or specialized exercises to alleviate the arm pain and prevent further complications.
Other recommendations and treatments
In addition to the preventive measures and treatments mentioned earlier, there are several other considerations and techniques that can be helpful in managing arm pain associated with the ulnar nerve.
One effective approach is the use of braces or splints to provide support and immobilize the affected area. These devices can help alleviate pressure on the ulnar nerve and promote proper alignment, reducing the risk of further irritation or damage. Additionally, ergonomic aids such as wrist supports or cushioned mouse pads can assist in maintaining a neutral wrist position while using computers or performing repetitive tasks, relieving strain on the ulnar nerve.
Physical therapy and targeted exercises are also valuable components of the treatment plan for arm pain. A qualified physical therapist can develop a tailored program to strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve flexibility, helping to stabilize the joint and reduce stress on the ulnar nerve. These exercises often focus on stretching and strengthening the forearm, wrist, and hand, promoting optimal functioning and minimizing discomfort.
Furthermore, alternative therapies such as massage and chiropractic adjustments have shown promise in relieving arm pain. Massage therapy can help relax tense muscles, enhance blood circulation, and promote overall healing. Chiropractic adjustments aim to realign the spine and joints, reducing nerve compression and improving nerve function.
It is crucial to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to support the healing process and prevent recurrent arm pain. This includes maintaining a balanced diet rich in nutrients that support nerve health, such as vitamins B12, B6, and E, as well as minerals like magnesium. Staying adequately hydrated and avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption can also contribute to overall nerve health and reduce inflammation.
In some cases, when conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief, a healthcare professional may recommend medications to manage pain and inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and swelling, while corticosteroid injections may be used to provide more targeted and potent relief. It is important to note that these medications should be used under medical supervision and as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
Psychological support and stress management techniques can also play a significant role in managing arm pain. Chronic pain can take a toll on one’s mental well-being, leading to anxiety, depression, and decreased quality of life. Seeking support from mental health professionals or joining support groups can provide valuable resources for coping with the emotional aspects of living with arm pain.
Lastly, it is essential to listen to your body and pace yourself during activities that may exacerbate arm pain. Overexertion and repetitive movements can put undue stress on the ulnar nerve, hindering the healing process. Learning proper body mechanics and utilizing ergonomic principles in daily activities, such as lifting heavy objects or using tools, can help minimize strain on the arm.
Arm pain resulting from excessive phone use is a common issue in today’s digital age. However, by implementing ergonomic adjustments, incorporating targeted exercises, and practicing healthy habits, you can minimize the risk of developing arm pain. Remember to maintain proper posture, take regular breaks, and engage in strength and flexibility exercises to support your arm muscles and prevent discomfort. By prioritizing your arm health and implementing these strategies, you can enjoy the benefits of smartphone technology while keeping arm pain at bay.
Hands go numb holding phone in bed? If you need a solution to release the discomfort or pain from holding your phone for many hours a day, then we will be happy to take a look at your issue. Schedule a Call with us!