Stay Fit and Healthy

Tablet neck and BlackBerry thumb

Yes we're all guilty - unable to stand in line at Starbucks or wait for a movie to start without checking our phone as impatiently as if our life depended on it.

Click away, but know that all that hunching over and tapping on handheld devices, like tablets and smartphones, is leading to more -- and younger -- patients with arthritis and tendinitis in the elbows, neck and thumbs.

In a study in the journal Applied Ergonomics, 84% of mobile-phone users reported having pain in at least one body part, most often the base of the right thumb. "Even light pressure can be magnified five or 10 times at the base of the thumb joint," causing strain, says Dr. Kenneth Means Jr., a hand-surgery specialist at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. So-called BlackBerry thumb could eventually require surgery, he warns.

That doesn't mean you have to give up Instagramming, but do take some simple precautions while you type. Dr. Means advises, holding up your phone to about chest-high when you're looking at the screen.

Another Applied Ergonomics study shows that as many as 91% of us may be staring down at navel level, straining the backs of our necks.

If you have a tablet, use a stand instead of placing it flat on a table or holding it up; both positions can curve your shoulders painfully. Get up and stretch periodically while using phones and tablets, and try not to slam your fingers down on the screen or keyboard.

Finally, consider making calls (remember those?) instead of so many texts and e-mails.

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