From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

“Blackberry Thumb” – A Painful But Avoidable Musculoskeletal Disorder

“Blackberry thumb” is the newest painful disorder of the computer age. It afflicts road warriors and others who over use their Blackberry – or any of the other handheld devices with a miniature keyboard designed for thumb tapping. But there’s no need to trade in the gadget. Ergonomic measures can prevent the disorder, an informal name for a nerve-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).

MSDs accounted for a third of all workplace injuries and illnesses reported in 2003 – the latest data available, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BlackBerry came onto the market in 1999. About 2.5 million people currently use them, according to Research In Motion Ltd., the Canadian manufacturer. The device employs a full QWERTY keypad for thumb typing to send and receive e-mail. And that’s the problem. Experienced users scroll through e-mails at high speed with their thumbs, an awkward motion. The consensus of several experts quoted recently in an Associated Press article on the condition is that the thumb is not sufficiently dexterous for rigorous work.

The ergonomic preventive measures recommended by the experts include sending very short emails and replying in kind, and taking frequent breaks from thumbing. The eraser tip of a pencil can be a handy thumb substitute. Dr. Jennifer Weiss, assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Southern California, says that using an external keyboard connected to the gadget makes the most sense for people who insist on typing multiple sentences with their thumbs.

“Of course, any product can be overused,” Mark Guibert, VP of marketing at Research In Motion Ltd. told the Associated Press, “… so people should listen to their own bodies and adjust their routine if necessary.”

Sources: Research In Motion Ltd; Associated Press

Editor’s Note: The article, “Assessing Nerve Conduction Studies In Carpal Tunnel Patients” covers similar disorders in the November 2004 issue of The Ergonomics Report™, a publication for professionals who require a deeper look at ergonomics items in the news.