Are we all holding our smartphones wrong—and injuring ourselves in the process? It’s a question that seems to pop up every few years, and one that recently led to a feverish debate among Slate staffers thanks to a very viral tweet.
The claim is this: If you stick your pinkie out to form a little ledge for your iPhone, you’re damaging your hand and wrist.
Here is one of our intrepid editors modeling the hand position. It is, to my slight terror, also how I hold my phone every day without really thinking about it:
As Slate’s science and health editor, I wanted to know, for the sake of my colleagues, myself, and probably millions if not billions of people worldwide: Is this true?
Because I do not want you to walk around with false information still lodged in your brain if you do not finish reading this post, I think it’s important to say right up front that, according to a hand surgeon I checked with, you’re not doing worrisome damage to yourself by using a pinkie anchor. (We’ll get to the real low-stakes consequences of this iPhone-holding method in a minute.)
“ ‘Smartphone pinkie’—there’s not a specific pathology,” says Josh Gluck, a hand surgeon at Ventura Orthopedics in California. The ulnar nerve, which runs from your neck to your elbow and all the way into your pinkie, can cause a strange sensation in that digit if you sleep on your elbow funny or otherwise hold your elbow at a weird angle for a long period of time. But holding your phone “with your pinkie has nothing to do with your ulnar nerve,” says Gluck.
Holding your phone for long periods of time can cause problems: Keeping your head bent at an angle can cause a hunch and shoulder pain. Texting with your thumbs—versus holding it with one hand and hunting and pecking with the other—can lead to “trigger finger,” a situation in which the tendon in your thumb gets inflamed and cannot smoothly slide through the sheath that contains it, which can make the finger get stuck in a curled shape. To understand what is going on with the tendon and the sheath, Gluck advised me to watch a video in which a cat (the tendon in this analogy) tries to squeeze through a pet door (the sheath):
And while wrist pain can be a side effect of too much phone use, it’s not related to the position of the pinkie, says Gluck. Instead, wrist pain happens “because the tendons that connect to the thumb can become inflamed at the wrist,” according to a post on the Ventura Orthopedics website.
What can happen if you use your pinkie specifically as a ledge is a little callus or dent might form. But it’s not harmful. “What do I need to do about it?” asks Gluck rhetorically. “The answer is nothing.”
If your pinkie starts to actively hurt, that could be a sign of mild tendonitis, says Gluck, in which case the complicated and harrowing treatment is to stick a PopSocket on your phone. Or, you know, put it down.