The Selfie: A Risk to the Wrist?

Sure, your new haircut is on point. The lighting is just perfect. And the location? It’s a spot guaranteed to garner tons of likes and comments from your crew on social media. But before you tap that button to flip your phone’s camera front to back, and frame yourself up for that perfect snap, there’s a question you should be asking.

Is my selfie healthy?

The internet is littered with cautionary tales of people pushing the selfie envelope so far, they put their own well-being at risk. But it turns out a fall from great heights or an attack by a wild animal may not be the only danger inherent to America’s new favorite form of self-expression.

“Selfie wrist is very similar and akin to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but it’s not Carpal Tunnel,” says Dr. Levi Harrison, a San Francisco-based physician, in his recent video explainer of the condition. Harrison gained notoriety as the person who first popularized the phrase “selfie wrist.”

Like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Harrison says selfie wrist occurs due to an irritation of the median nerve, a major nerve of the forearm and wrist.

According to Harrison, selfie wrist is most likely to occur when someone taking a selfie makes a sharp right angle between their forearm and wrist as they attempt to hold the camera at a distance from, but square to, their face. The longer and more frequently a person holds their phone in that position, the more susceptible to selfie wrist they become, Harrison says.

If you’ve got tingling or numbness in your thumb, index finger, middle and ring fingers, you may be experiencing an irritation of that median nerve. Selfie wrist is also associated with a decrease in grip strength and sometimes pain.

These same symptoms can be associated with other, more serious conditions and you should consult with a physician if you are experiencing them. And if you are experiencing those symptoms, you’re not alone.

In an episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” last fall, Kim Kardashian notes her doctor gave her instructions to lay off the selfies. Apparently, too much snapping left her with a wrist problem pronounced enough that she was prescribed a brace for her cellphone hand. Nonetheless, during the episode Kardashian wanted to do some self-promotion social media style, so she asks one of the television shows’ camera operators to stop working and record a short video for her, with her cell phone, as though it was a selfie.

Setting aside the crushing irony of having a professional videographer record a “selfie” for you, the sequence suggests both how compelling the drive to create selfies can be, and the potential for an associated malady to become commonplace.

The good news is, those who develop selfie wrist aren’t necessarily stuck with it. Physical therapists have developed several exercises and stretching techniques to combat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and Dr. Harrison says these can be effective for relieving the symptoms of selfie wrist as well. In particular, Harrison recommends “glide” exercises.

To learn more about exercises that may help, you can visit a California licensed physical therapist for guidance.You can check to see if your physical therapist is licensed, and find a wealth of other information here, at the Physical Therapy Board of California’s website.


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