The Grapevine

What Is 'Selfie Wrist'? Medical Condition Cases Increasing, Doctor Says

Time after time, we delve into the negative effects of social media which may also include the practice of taking selfies. These discussions largely deal with the psychological harm that could take place, such as the risk of body dysmorphic disorder.

But what about the possibility of physical harm? While not given as much attention as the former, there have been many cases of injury linked to taking selfies.

Dr. Levi Harrison, an orthopedic surgeon based in California, recently raised concerns about "selfie wrist" being on the rise. "It's a form of carpal tunnel. What happens is the nerve becomes inflamed and angry," he explained.

Similar to an overuse injury, this happens when a person constantly takes selfies by flexing their wrist inwards, which is not a natural position. Repeated stress of this kind can bring forth symptoms like a tingling sensation or sharp pain in the wrist.

Of course, this can be triggered in other ways such as sleeping on your wrist or typing for long periods. But given how normalized selfies have become in recent years, Harrison believes the practice is emerging as a major contributor.

Dr. Steven Chudik, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, previously noted how the elbow can also be strained when extending your arm while taking a selfie. When performed excessively, it can add stress "on the tendon anchoring the muscle of the forearm," he said back in 2016. "Listen to your body. If something hurts, give it a rest. No selfie is worth the pain."

Last year, doctors from University College Hospital Galway in Ireland documented cases of selfie-induced trauma to spread awareness about the phenomenon. Published in the Irish Medical Journal, the paper revealed how patients as young as 13 and as old as 40 had suffered broken wrists in the process of taking their own picture.

"All patients fractured the limb not holding the smartphone, suggesting that selfie-takers value and are protective of their smartphone," the authors wrote. "Interestingly, despite their widespread use, no additional props such as selfie sticks were involved." 

In these cases and most in general, it is tied to "proprioception" or a loss of spatial awareness. In simple words, this means all our attention is focused on the smartphone screen, making it easy for us to lose balance, fall down, or bump into an obstacle.

Obviously, this makes for a major safety hazard if you are taking a selfie while jumping on a trampoline or standing near the edge of a cliff. In fact, the Russian government even issued a "Safe Selfie Guide" in 2015 after a rise in cases involving serious injury or death.