Oh Great, Your Smartphone Is Making You Physically Weaker

Pokemon Go fans, listen up!

If your phone is permanently affixed to your hand, we have some bad news.

A new study published in the Journal of Hand Therapy found that millennials’ hand grips are getting weaker, especially in men, due to all that texting, scrolling and gaming on their smartphones, according to study coauthor Elizabeth Fain, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Winston-Salem State University.

Men hunt virtual characters and monsters in Pokemon Go. A new study shows that repetitive texting and gaming is making millennials physically weaker.
CRIS BOURONCLE via Getty Images
Men hunt virtual characters and monsters in Pokemon Go. A new study shows that repetitive texting and gaming is making millennials physically weaker.

Fain and coauthor Cara Weatherford, a student at the time of the study who is now an occupational therapist in pediatrics, measured participants’ grip strength and “lateral pinch strength,” or with how much force a person can push his thumb into his pointer finger. They tested a group of 237 healthy people (83 men and 154 women) between the ages of 20 and 34, then compared their findings to data taken from a similar group in 1985.

Fain and Weatherford found that the entire group of men had both weaker grips and weaker lateral pinches, while the same was true for women between the ages of 20 and 30. Women between 30 and 34 did not exhibit weaker grips or lateral pinches, which Fain attributes to their status as “millennial outliers.”

“[They] have not been as fully immersed in the technology typically, therefore [they’re] more likely to be engaged in more physically demanding tasks/roles,” she said.

In other words, the eldest female millennials don’t have the same tech habits as their male counterparts and younger members of their generation.

Not only is grip important for everyday life, it is also used as an indicator for overall fitness and a potential predictor of health problems and disabilities, Fain explained. In fact, research has even found that a weak grip could be a harbinger of higher mortality rates. A 2015 study published in the journal Lancet found that a lack of grip strength is a strong predictor of all-cause mortality around the world.

But this study doesn’t necessarily mean that millennials are at greater risk for health problems. Instead, researchers may need to update what is considered a normal grip strength for a healthy millennial so that doctors can accurately measure grip strength later in life.

In one area, the data showed an advantage for millennials, who apparently have stronger thumbs than the older generation. But even this isn’t quite as wonderful as you might think, as the thumb muscles are small, Fain pointed out.

“Frequent texting and minimal rest breaks will inflame the small muscles going to the thumb, similar to carpal tunnel,” she said. The most likely risk is for De Quervains tenosynovitis, a painful condition that affects the tendons on your thumb’s side that is onset by repetitive movements in your thumb and wrist, she said.

So how much time away from your phone should you get? Fain recommends taking 3- to 5-minute “minibreaks,” warming your thumb up and stretching it into the “L” position, two to three times an hour. If you have tenderness, she recommends using a cold compress until the area is temporarily numb from the ice.

And if you’re a Pokemon Go fiend, take note: The next time you fire up your phone and head to the next PokeStop, maybe you don’t try to catch them all. While the study was conducted before Pokemon Go existed, Fain said, your habit isn’t helping.

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