Digital disabilities and how to fix them

HOUSTON – "Digital disabilities" is the term some doctors are referring to when describing an increase in carpal tunnel symptoms in joints affected by staring at devices.

Phones, tablets and too much typing are all blamed for an increase in the painful symptoms.

Sandra Jackson is a nurse who needs her wrists to write, type and use her phone, but the only way she can comfortably use her phone anymore is to toss it from her purse to a flat surface because she cannot hold her wrist in position to text.

“Painful to hold as well as it was just too, my hand was so tender so I couldn't hold it,” Jackson explained.

Dr. Geoffrey Konopka, UT Physicians Orthopedist, cut the ligaments causing pain through two small incisions. He said patients are needing this procedure more often as they're more frequently causing carpal tunnel in themselves.

“We've known for close to a hundred years that repetitive motions can, are very associated with carpal tunnel. It is one of the major factors that we see and described by patients when they come to us with these problems,” Konopka said.

He calls them "digital disabilities" and says it can include the elbow, thumb, neck and hands. The symptoms are painful and caused by repetitive motion with the joints.

“They’ve been holding their phones in a certain position, their fingers will go numb or they'll have a lot of tingling. It can be very painful,” he said.

Konopka said most patients have little to no pain within four weeks of surgery. 

Jackson said she's loving the results. She's pain-free in one hand and planning for the same procedure in her other hand.

“I'm looking forward to that because like I say, I have a lot of problems with this hand now. So, I’m looking forward to it because I need both hands,” Jackson said.

The numbness and pain often wakes patients up, so they complain of sleep problems as well.

Konopka said interrupted sleep can lead to other health problems, like depression, so this is important to fix and feel better.

Most insurance should cover the procedures to repair carpal tunnel.