June 2, 2009

Doctors Identify “˜Cell Phone Elbow’ Syndrome

Researchers have reported a new modern-day illness that may affect people who habitually talk on their cell phones for long periods of time.

Commonly known as "cell phone elbow", cubital tunnel syndrome is characterized by numbness, tingling and pain in the forearm and hand. The symptoms come from bending the elbow for an extended period of time while holding a cell phone.

This can result in pressure on the ulnar nerve, which runs underneath the bump on the inside of the elbow.

The prolonged bending of the elbow while holding a cell phone shuts down blood flow to the nerve, which causes uncomfortable symptoms that are similar to hitting the "funny bone," said Dr. Peter J. Evans, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Hand and Upper Extremity Center.

"Repetitive, sustained stretching of the nerve is like stepping on a garden hose," said Evans.

"With the hose, you're blocking the flow of water. With the elbow, you're blocking the blood flow to the nerve, which causes it to misfire and short circuit."

Symptoms begin with numbness and tingling in the hand, but can develop into a loss of muscle strength, coordination and mobility. In extreme cases, the pinky and ring fingers can become clawed, Evans and his colleagues reported in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.

Scientists are unable to estimate how many people suffer from cell phone elbow, but it is less common than carpal tunnel syndrome, which involves the wrist.

"Cubital tunnel is the second most common compression syndrome we see," said Heather Turkopp, an occupational therapist and certified hand specialist at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

Evans and colleagues found that women are more prone to the effects of cubital tunnel syndrome because they may have hormonal changes that make them more susceptible.

There are other causes for the disorder than talking on the cell phone, including sleeping with the elbows bent and tucked up into the chest, sitting at a desk with the elbows flexed at an angle greater than 90 degrees and driving with your elbow propped on the window for extended periods, said Evans.


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