Twitter has broken my thumbs (I think)

I shoulda broke YOUR thumbs!

— Rocky Balboa

… and I didn’t even owe it money.

The really weird thing about this is the way I can pinpoint it in time.

When I went to bed on the night of Aug. 16, I was fine. No pain; everything functioning normally. No foreshadowing at all. Then, sometime during the night, I woke up, and as I got up out of the bed to head for the bathroom, I said “Ow.” Both joints in both thumbs hurt like crazy, and doing the most normal things — such as pushing myself up out of the bed, or even something as nonstrenuous as pinching the bridge of my nose with thumb and forefinger to rub the sleep out — caused the thumb involved to pop out of joint, quite painfully. And popping it back in was no picnic, either.

And even when I wasn’t trying to use them, the joints were painfully tender to the slightest touch. And if I did try to use them — which is pretty unavoidable; our species has pretty much built its daily activities around having opposable thumbs — to use them normally required forcing the joints past points at which they want to stop, and that forcing leads to a pop (which I think is actual dislocation), and pain. Both in the ball of the hand, and the other joint closer to the end of the digit.

I had always been double-jointed to the point that my thumbs naturally bent back, on their own, 90 degrees. No more. Now, once they hit the point where they are straight, they stop, and the slightest backward pressure on them hurts.

And it’s been like this ever since that day. This is really having an impact on my life.

There was no trauma that I can recall.

I don’t think I’ve contracted any bizarre illness that attacks the joints — at least, there are no other symptoms. All the other joints are fine — except for my knee that acts up sometimes, but that long predated this.

I haven’t taken in any exotic toxins that I know of. I remember reading once of an incident involving Allied prisoners in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines. Once they were fed a dinner of rancid fish heads, and moments after the meal, suddenly all the prisoners’ heads flopped over because they had completely lost the use of their neck muscles. After a few hours, the effect wore off. Then the next night, more fish heads, and the men’s heads flopped over again. This really freaked out the guards.

But I hadn’t eaten any rancid fish heads.

At first, I thought it was the constant typing on the laptop, and I didn’t know what I was going to do about that — both for ADCO and the blog, it’s pretty unavoidable.

Then, I finally realized: It was the Blackberry. It was the fact that I increasingly answer e-mails on it, and work with photos on it, and send text messages, approve blog comments, and… constantly, constantly, keep up with Twitter. I Tweet, I reTweet, I click on links to see what they’re about. I do it anytime I’m sitting still and not actually writing or talking or driving. Sit me down and shut me up, and I dive into Twitter.

It’s called “Blackberry Thumb.” Some of my iPhone-loving friends have told me that it’s because I use the wrong device, but they think the iPhone is the cure to every ill known to Man.

So I’m thinking that’s it. But I’ve tried cutting back, to no avail. As for cold turkey — I’m not even sure it’s possible to do that and keep up with ADCO and family responsibilities. Sure, I can avoid Googling everything in the world that I’m curious about in the course of a day, and confine Twitter activity to the laptop. But there’s a limit. There’s a good reason I pay for this data service every month.

Since I live in the good ol’ USA, it would be prohibitively expensive with my current insurance to go on a quest through various specialists in search of a cure, so I’d really like to figure this out and cure it myself. I’ve acquired a couple of braces for immobilizing my thumbs to sleep in at least, and that keeps them from waking me up from the pain of normal movements during the night — but causes them to be even stiffer in the morning.

The biggest mystery, to me, and the one thing that makes me doubt the Twitter diagnosis? That it came on, full-blown, so suddenly. Seems to me that a repetitive-motion thing would be more gradual than that. But maybe not. My goal is just to make it go away just as suddenly, and for good…

16 thoughts on “Twitter has broken my thumbs (I think)

  1. Kiki

    Um, type with your fingers until your thumbs are better? On my qwerty it works pretty well to type with the fingers of one hand.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Osteoarthritis flares up—if they took and xray of your spine, say, they’d probably find arthritic spots, but you don’t necessarily have symptoms until you aggravate it somehow–it’s a dose response, too. If something else you are doing piles on to your already be-twitted thumbs, you may have such symptoms.

    Having looser joints is not such a good thing from an osteo standpoint. I know from personal experience.

    So stop with the tweeting, and use a desktop. Ice the joints. Drink lots of water–it’s been dry lately, so you may need more.

  3. scout

    Oh No! I am double jointed and have just recently become addicted to my droid. I hope your experience is not a foreshadowing for me.

    Aleve and Ibuprofen are generally good for joint issues and inflammation.

    Um, have you had any injury to your wrists or elbows – nerve compression as a result of an injury could be sudden onset and mimic a repetitive injury type nerve thing, I think.

    Hope you feel better.

  4. Pat

    @ Doug: I’ve been given Cipro and saw that warning on the information paper. I was concerned since I have had a blown tendon, but after taking it on 2 occasions I haven’t had problems. Tendonitis, arthritis, gout – they can show up suddenly.

  5. Doug Ross


    The fact that both thumbs became painful at the same time is why I suspect antibiotics or some other drug reaction.

    I’m not a doctor, but I did play one on TV (Remember Dr. Doug Ross – George Clooney – on ER?)

    Now, Brad, turn to the left and cough.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Check with your doctor–or perhaps better–your pharmacist–some of your asthma meds (or others) might be exacerbating this….

  7. Pat

    Kathryn has the most sensible idea – see a doctor.
    Oh m’goodness! Dr. Ross! Well, Brad, there you go – a doctor right here in the house. Better get off those antibiotics. 🙂
    (sorry about the smiley face, Brad.
    How are your thumbs btw?)

  8. Brad Warthen

    No, folks — no antibiotics. Not for some time.

    I finally caved into pressure from Mamanem today and made an appointment with an orthopedist. The appointment isn’t until Oct. 21.

    My failure to get better had started to concern me the last few days — particularly a couple of incidents that led to alarming pain. In one case, all I did was toss — very lightly — a dart at a dartboard. The shock of totally unexpected pain I felt at the furthest extent of the motion, just as I released the dart, was sharper than anything else I’d felt yet.

    It made me glad I wasn’t throwing a baseball, or something else that would have increased the torque by its mass.

    Then, there were a couple of times when I was reaching to pick up something one of my grandchildren had left on the floor, and when my thumb touched the floor, OW!

    I’ve got to get this fixed. If I can.


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