Suffering from “BlackBerry Thumb”

The Washington Post describes an increasingly pervasive disability:

For Some, Thumb Pain Is BlackBerry’s Stain

Sandy Boyd’s BlackBerry had become her passion. Now it has also become a source of pain.

About three months ago, the National Association of Manufacturers vice president noticed that, as she started to type, the area between her thumb and wrist would begin to throb.

Orthopedists say they are seeing an increasing number of patients with similar symptoms, a condition known as “overuse syndrome” or “BlackBerry thumb.” In some patients, the disability has become severe.

Bette R. Keltner, dean of the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies has been forced to put her BlackBerry down. After two years of constant use, her hands were in so much pain, she had to stop typing. She remembers the trigger point: It was a 10-hour conference one Saturday where she answered about 150 e-mails. “Days later, I was in excruciating pain,” she said.

I don’t own a BlackBerry, and I might be willing to accept the findings of the American Society of Hand Therapists and other experts. But common sense advises against replying to 150 emails within a 10-hour period. I know that I personally wouldn’t do it on a keyboard, let alone on a handheld device.

Then again, who the hell am I to talk? I write endless posts that occupy large chunks of the front page, much to some readers’ chagrin!

And I could simply be biased. After all, the Post also notes that my generation has an advantage:

The pains associated with BlackBerrys and other handhelds used to be common among video game players, but Stuart Hirsch, clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., believes teens who are frequent gamers are a little more immune.


[A] British researcher of cyber culture, Sadie Plant, found that teenagers and young adults throughout the world are becoming so adept at using their thumbs for messaging, they have started to use them for ringing doorbells and pointing.

Japanese teenagers are sometimes called “the thumb generation” because of their heavy-duty messaging. Plant has said that teens use their thumbs more than index fingers, making them faster and more muscled.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Brian J. says:

    Undoubtedly, previous generations’ hitchhikers are also more immune.