Medical conditions are often a “snapshot” of goings on in a society and a period of time. This couldn’t be more true with one of the newest orthopaedic hand and upper extremity conditions physicians have today coined “Selfie Elbow.”
Throughout history ailments have often reflected the activities and environment experienced during that period. Gamekeepers thumb of the 1950s eventually became more commonly known as Skier’s Thumb. Today it’s called by modern day millennials… “Texter’s Thumb.”
What may very well have been Archer’s elbow from a time preceding all of us, has over the years become popularized as Tennis Elbow (lateral/outside) or Golfer’s Elbow (medial/inside) – and today is referred to as Selfie Elbow, joining the growing list of “modern day maladies” afflicting millennials (those born from the early 1990s to early 2000s).
While the names and mechanism of overuse conditions may change, the end result is the same – tendonitis.
According to recent reports, millennials spend an average of five hours a week taking selfies. And each one is expected to take over 25,000 in their lifetime (1,2).
The weight of the phone is not the concern. The repetition combined with the contortion of the elbow, held in unnatural positions while capturing the Selfie shot are actually what pose the problem!
Further adding to elbow stress is the Selfie Stick. Selfie Sticks extend up to 51 inches. Positioning and maintaining balance of a phone on the Selfie Stick further exacerbates the stress on the elbow and now also unnaturally engages the wrist as well.
Tendons work to anchor muscle to bone. When the repetitive overuse and sometimes awkward positioning of the arm places continual stress (micro-trauma) on the muscles and tendons at the elbow, which help to extend and stabilize the wrist, irritation can result.
Currently Selfie Elbow more closely mimics Tennis Elbow and Olecranon Bursitis. Technically known as lateral epicondylitis, Tennis Elbow affects the lateral (outside) portion of the elbow. The same diagnostic tools and treatment for Tennis Elbow are used to treat Selfie Elbow.
Symptoms of Selfie Elbow
The symptoms of Selfie Elbow are also similar to those of Tennis Elbow and can include:
- Pain on the outside of the elbow during activity.
- Weakness with grabbing or gripping.
- Dull ache while at rest/night.
Diagnosing Selfie Elbow
A physical examination and understanding of patient history and activities leading up to the pain will help determine the areas affected and the diagnosis.
Treating Selfie Elbow
Treatment for this and most types of tendonitis includes rest and refraining from the activity causing the stress and strain. Other conservative treatment may include:
- Physical therapy to stretch and build strength.
- Behavior modification – a change in posture/position while taking Selfies.
- An elbow brace to be worn during the daytime and a wrist brace at night – holding both in anatomically comfortable positions.
- Steroid injections.
- Ultrasound or heat therapy.
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections.
- Shockwave Therapy.
While rare, if conservative treatment fails to resolve the issue and pain becomes incapacitating, surgical intervention may be required to remove diseased, degenerated tendon tissue. This type of procedure is generally performed by minimally invasive surgery and may include open debridement and arthroscopy, followed by rehabilitation therapy.
Preventing Selfie Elbow
While avoiding such overuse conditions is difficult for athletes and others inflexibly bound to their activity, those experiencing Selfie Elbow are encouraged to limit their Selfie activity and engage their upper extremity in other exercise during off time. Also, frequently changing arm position, and possibly arms, while taking selfies can help reduce the strain on the elbow and the tendons and muscles which support it.
- Pew Research Center, “Millennials in Adulthood – Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends.”,2014. pewresearch.org.
- International Business Times – http://www.ibtimes.com/millennials-selfies-young-adults-will-take-more-25000-pictures-themselves-during-2108417.