Cell Phone Elbow: Talking on Cell Phone May Damage Nerves
Orthopedic specialists have recently reported a condition known as cubital tunnel syndrome, or "cell phone elbow", where an important nerve in the arm is damaged because the elbow was bent too tightly for too long. The damage is a result of prolonged stretching of the nerve that occurs when someone holds a phone up to their ear for a long period of time, reducing blood circulation to the nerves. Symptoms usually include tingling or numb pinky and ring fingers as well as potentially decreased ability to type, write, play instruments, or complete other dextrous tasks.
Constant cell phone use could "stress out the ulnar nerves," said Dr. Leon Benson, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The ulnar nerve, which travels through the forearm and branches into the hand, can become weakened and scarred after being stretched repeatedly. Watch the Health Minute about cell phone elbow »
"The more you bend it, the more it stretches," Evans said. "It diminishes the blood supply, and the blood is not flowing through the nerves."
While the nerves are designed for stretching, "it's not normal to be in a position to be stretched for an hour," Benson said.
Cubital tunnel syndrome can also result from:
- leaning on one's elbow for too long, too often
- resting elbows on the arm of a chair or wheelchair
- sleeping on one's elbow or with it overly bent
- typing with elbows bent more than 90 degrees
For those with smartphones or hands-free sets, don't worry about being left out: any day now, experts expect to hear reports of iPhone thumb and Wii wrist.