Wrist pain caused by excessive use of the instant messaging app

“The diagnosis for the bilateral wrist pain was WhatsAppitis.” And thus was born yet another new medical condition, the child of man’s union with technology. WhatsAppitis, a condition caused by the excessive use of the popular instant messaging app, WhatsApp, characterised by a typical wrist pain, comes in the hoary tradition of device-use related injuries.

The Lancet, which created all the buzz about WhatsAppitis with an article on the condition in its March 22 edition, also pointed out that worthy predecessors were Nintenditis (use of gaming devices) and Tenosynovitis (texting with mobile phones). WhatsAppitis was detected in a 34-year-old pregnant woman, the article says, with no other injury or trauma, but with a history of rapid messaging on WhatsApp.

While the term “WhatsAppitis” might seem to take the edge off a pretty serious injury, the pain it causes is neither imaginary not funny for the patient. It is real. “It is the way you use the touch screen, with your palm facing the device on either side and the thumbs flying at the screen that causes the problem,” says Prithvi Mohandas, Joint Managing Director, MIOT hospitals, and orthopaedic surgeon. “We’ve seen a lot of people with this kind of pain. We have also seen many from the IT sector, with injuries to the ulnar ligament, because of the way they use devices at work.”

“WhatsAppitis falls in the category of Repetitive Stress Injury. RSI has been occurring for a long while and, as indicated by the name, repetitive use of devices,” explains George Thomas, former editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, and senior orthopaedic surgeon. “Essentially, RSI depends on the tool you use: earlier we found injuries with use of power tools, and now, as we change, it’s the mouse, keypad, mobile, tablet,” he explains.

Dr. Thomas says he has many patients with RSI. “There was one patient who used to keep quarrelling with his wife because he was on the phone for too long. The more devices he acquired, the more bitter their quarrels got.”

The doctor’s prescription is to reduce the stress that causes the injury. “We have to live with what we have, it would be ridiculous to completely stop. But it is possible to reduce the usage,” he adds.

The patient described in The Lancet was clearly a severe case: she was advised “complete abstinence from using the phone to send messages.” Guess what? She did not follow it. It was New Year, and what’s the best way to exchange wishes on New Year’s Eve?