HITTING A NERVE: Just what is cell phone elbow (cubital tunnel syndrome), and can regular use of a mobile device cause it? A doctor who has first-hand experience with it explains. Image: ISTOCKPHOTO/MANU1174
As CNN and others are reporting, an increasing number of cell phone gabbers are complaining of an ailment called "cell phone elbow." Here are the symptoms: pain or numbness in the hand—especially the pinky and ring fingers. Not to be confused with tennis or golfer's elbow (forms of tendonitis), this new diagnosis stems from the nerves that run through the elbow.
With more than four billion cell phone contracts out across the globe, according to the International Telecommunication Union's annual report, is a larger health issue on the horizon or is it just hype?
A recent report in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine notes that "the exact incidence of cell phone elbow is not known, but anecdotal reports and our own clinical experience indicates that its incidence parallels the rise in the use of cell phones and computer workstations."
So are these mobile devices literally putting people's nerves at risk? To find out, we spoke with Michael Hausman, chief of hand and elbow surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He talked to us on his cell from Turkey, where he's attending a conference.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
Are you familiar with the term, "cell phone elbow"?
It's a popular moniker of cubital tunnel syndrome—neuritis, or inflammation of the ulnar nerve.
Is it related to tennis elbow?
It's completely unrelated. [Tennis elbow is tendonitis, and is caused by inflammation of the tendons.]
So, as a recognized condition, what are some of the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
The symptoms are pain or numbness or tingling in the little finger and in half of the adjacent finger—the [pinky-facing] side of the ring finger. Those are the fingers that are innervated—their sensation is supplied—by the ulnar nerve. The remaining fingers are supplied by the median nerve.