PDA & Smartphone Ergonomics

PDA & Smartphone Ergonomics

Since their inception, the push has been to make computers smaller, smarter and more portable. Functions that once took banks of computer hardware are now performed on electronic gadgets that fit in the palm of our hand.

1973 heralded the birth of hand held computers with the first programmable calculator. Within 2 years, a primitive and portable computer organizer was developed with a calculator, alarm clock and scheduling feature. The first "palmtop" with DOS was developed in the mid 1980s. John Sculley of Apple Computer officially coined the term PDA (personal digital assistant) in 1992 when he introduced the Apple Newton. The mass market appeal of these small devices was realized with the introduction of the Palm Pilot in 1996. About the same time, the first "smartphone" (a combination of cellular phone and PDA) was developed. The popular BlackBerry was introduced in 1999. Currently, 2.14 billion people worldwide subscribe to mobile phone service (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mobile_phone).

In a piece of electronic equipment the size of the palm of our hand, we now have the ability to make phone calls, take pictures and videos, access calendars and address books, check email, surf the web, perform office tasks and develop business documents with mobile versions of word processors and spreadsheets, locate areas of interest and avoid traffic jams with GPS, play games, and entertain ourselves with music and video downloads.

The following ergonomic and safety tips will keep you healthy and pain-free when using your handheld device.

"BlackBerry Thumb"

Text-messaging and miniature or keyboard functions can take their toll on the thumbs. "BlackBerry Thumb" is a commonly used term to describe a painful and debilitating tendonitis of the thumb tendons caused by repetitive use.
  • Limit your typing time to no more than 10-15 minute sessions.

  • Stretch often.
    • Turn your palms up.
    • Open the thumbs wide as if you are hitch-hiking.
    • Using your other hand, gently push the thumb back until you feel a nice stretch.

  • Use a portable keyboard attachment when possible.
  • If using a stylus, use one with a larger grip handle.
  • Support your arms on pillows while typing.
  • Hold a pencil and use the eraser to push the keys to give your thumbs a break.
  • If your thumbs feel sore, use cold packs after typing. Take a break from using your thumb keyboard. Seek medical attention if the pain does not go away.


It is best not to speak on your cellular phone and drive at the same time. In fact, in most states, it is now against the law. If you must:
  • Use a hands-free device.
  • Keep conversations short.
  • Do not talk while engaging in driving tasks that require additional attention such as merging onto the freeway.
  • Be careful not to drift into adjacent lanes.
  • Do not engage in distracting or emotional conversations while driving.
  • Pull over to take notes or messages; or use an easily accessible recorder programmed into your device.
  • Place your cell phone in a stable position so that you are not distracted by it shifting.

For additional information on injury prevention and ergonomics, please visit Hand Health Resources.

Bluetooth Keyboard

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PC & Video Gaming - Ergonomic Tips
Top 10 Ways to Avoid Computer-Related Pain
Wi-itis & Other New Repetitive Injuries

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