Cell phone thumb: what is it and how can I protect myself?

Pain from too much Whatsapp? Frequent typing on the smartphone leads to overloading for more and more users. The “cell phone thumb” threatens. Read here how you can prevent this orthopedic disease of civilization and what you, the sufferer, can do about it.

Social media can make you sick – and your thumbs at that: Because communication channels are increasingly shifting to mobile devices and chat apps such as WhatsApp, Signal and Co., a strange phenomenon has emerged in recent years: frequent writers and speed-typists complain of pain in the thumb, which sometimes radiate to the elbow. The increasingly common diagnosis: the so-called “cell phone thumb”.

This is a sign of wear and tear that can worsen up to tendinitis in the long flexor of the thumb and is due to unilateral stress patterns. In extreme cases, thickening of tendons and nerves can even lead to anatomical changes in the hand. From an evolutionary point of view, the human anatomy is very poorly prepared for the smartphone age.

Stones and mammoths instead of smartphones

Our great-great-ancestors are actually to blame: They used the thumb primarily to support their fingers when they knocked on stones or hit woolly mammoths with spears. If Homo Erectus had already talked about the advantages and disadvantages of vaccinations on WhatsApp back then, we would not have some problems today – including the mobile phone thumb.

While gripping and grabbing works naturally for us, things look very different with one-handed touchscreen hammering: The constant spreading movements and overstretching the thumb towards the little finger lead to one-sided overload symptoms, which is the ergonomic principle of the human hand simply contradict.

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The larger the display, the greater the risk

For users of large smartphones, the risk of injury when typing in a marathon is particularly high: the more display distance the thumb has to reach, the further it is stretched and overextended. In connection with quick typing patterns, the cell phone thumb or “Whatsappitis” soon sets in – and even exchanging short texts is a pain. If you ignore this warning sign, you can catch chronic wear-and-tear diseases that you then have to struggle with for a long time. But there are measures for prevention and therapy.

With these measures, frequent typists can also prevent the cell phone thumb

If you are also an avid typist, there are a few simple rules you can follow to effectively prevent the cell phone thumb. You should get into the habit of writing texts with both thumbs, especially on larger displays: the division of labor, the strained thumb only has to do half of it. There is also no overstretching in the now halved radius. Short breaks when writing long texts also pay off. Especially if you fill this up with a few simple relaxation exercises for your thumb, arm, and wrist. You can often do without typing: After all, there are voice messages and the classic phone call.

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Incidentally, it is easy to find out whether the thumb has developed the first signs of fatigue or is overused: Place your thumb in your fist, turn the back of the hand upwards and then carefully move your hand outwards without moving your arm. If you are already feeling pain, action is required.

What those affected can do if they have complaints

As soon as you notice the first pain in the area of ​​the thumb joint, it is time to act. If there are serious signs of wear and tear, the sick can often hardly use the smartphone: even tying up pants or brushing teeth can become a tear-inducing challenge.

The first thing to do is to take it easy, the overloaded tendons have to recover before the pain spreads further or becomes chronic. Avoid typing long texts on your smartphone, voice messages or calls are now the method of choice – longer messages are much faster anyway. The time saved can then be used sensibly: massages in the thumb area and careful stretching exercises support the battered pollex in healing, as tendons and joints are gently loosened.

If the pain is severe or if the massage therapy is of no use, then you may have already caught tendinitis and should consult a doctor or a physiotherapist. There you can be helped with appropriate exercises, supporting tape or special thumb workouts. The good news: Surgical interventions are usually not necessary – probably also because most cell phone thumb patients are only 15-25 years old. Doctors often also give very simple advice, but one that may taste bitter for many: Take a break from typing on your smartphone for at least a week.


As silly as it may sound: the cell phone thumb is a widespread and sometimes extremely painful phenomenon that not only prevents those affected from busy chatting. Many everyday tasks can no longer be carried out painlessly with a damaged thumb. The syndrome is part of a long list of smartphone complaints that can also affect the head, neck, shoulders and eyes. However, the mobile phone thumb can be prevented very well: frequent writers should incorporate breaks and stretching exercises or instead of writing, simply send voice messages. Anyone who notices the first impairments on their own thumb should act quickly and best avoid typing for the time being. If it comes to tendinitis, you have to contact a doctor – but please by phone.

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