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  • Lawrence Ng

User Fault or Bad Design? What Causes Wrist Problems?

As mobile phones have become part of our daily lives, we are seeing more illnesses that are caused by the use of mobile phones such as ulnar nerve compression and carpal tunnel syndrome. But are these illnesses caused by the way we use them or the way phones are designed?

Credit: PLANN

Recently, there are discussions that such illnesses are caused by usage habits. Peter White, the Lead Author of a 2017 study about the effects of device usage on the median nerve and transverse carpal ligament, suggested that prolonged usage of hand-held devices could increase chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause pain, numbness, finger tingling, and weakened grip strength.

Another concern is that some people hold their phones with their pinky supporting most of the weight. Ben Lombard, a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said that this could damage your ulnar nerve. Symptoms of the ulnar nerve may include weakness or tenderness in the hand, tingling in the palm and fourth and fifth fingers, sensitivity to cold and tenderness in the elbow and joint.

But isn't how we hold our phones determined by the design of the phone? Surely nobody would like to carry a heavy phone or twist our fingers in awkward positions just so that we can use a phone.

Credit: Apple

Some phone designs make users hold these handheld devices the wrong way. Take the iPhone 4 as an example. In 2010, Apple received complaints that holding the iPhone 4 by its metal edge makes mobile reception suffer and they claim that it was the users who were holding the phones wrongly.

According to an interview with Dr Peter Tsai, a hand surgeon and an expert on nerve entrapment syndromes from Upper Hand Orthopaedics, claims that holding a larger cell phone in a vertical position for an extended period of time can cause the tendons in the hand to become inflamed and holding your phone while scrolling with the same hand can exacerbate it. While we do like a bigger screen, we definitely wouldn't want to hurt our hands while using it.

Phone design used to be a lot more audacious. Just look at the range offered by Nokia a century ago. They have flip ones, rotatable ones, two-handed ones and also very awkward ones.

Credit: Pai Berge via Flickr

The Nokia 7280, touted as the "Lipstick Phone", could be hard to handle considering how small it is. There is no number pad but just a small dial to help you navigate the phone, which makes dialling or texting a chore.

Credit: GSM Arena

Meanwhile, the Samsung Serene's chunky and angular design might make the phone uncomfortable to handle. It comes with a circular keypad and the phone camera is located on the side, which makes it awkward to take photos with.

Credit: Motorola

As for the Motorola Moto X, it is small but that could pose a challenge for people with big hands.

Credit: Samsung

The opposite is true for the Samsung Galaxy W. This is Samsung's biggest phone and probably the biggest phone ever made. It is the size of a tablet and it would probably be too cumbersome to handle for people without a big hand.

Whose fault do you think it is? Is it the phone manufacturer's fault that we are holding phones the wrong way? Or our habits to blame? Let us know via our Facebook page.


Written by Sophia Lopez

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