July 31, 2013 -- As technology improves it adapts to our needs, many experts and high-tech companies will tell you. But if you ask U.K. carrier O2, sometimes we need to adapt physically to our technology, and it all starts by strengthening our smartphone-loving thumbs.
The mobile phone service provider and device company has announced a new "Fit for 4G" campaign, aiming to prepare its customers for the arrival of the network's faster network by helping them strengthen their fingers with exercises, one of which includes the use of a "thumbell." Yes, the company has announced a dumbbell or weight to be used with the thumb for the purpose of strengthening those texting muscles.
The idea is that the network speed will be so much faster that users will be able to do more and at a faster rate, which, ultimately, might cause thumb pain. According to the network's research, two in five people reported having had thumb pain in the past five years, and more than half said their thumbs got tired after using their smartphones.
"Our research shows that excessive usage of the phone can leave people with sore thumbs, so we want our customers to make sure their thumbs are well looked after so they can make use of all the great technology that is available at their fingertips," David Johnson, general manager of devices for O2, told ABC News. "That's why we're trialing the Thumbell units and have worked with BMI to develop the Fit for 4G fitness routine."
The company is testing the 65-gram Thumbells internally right now with its own employees and with some people on Twitter who share photos or videos of them working out their thumbs. It sounds like it might be an elaborate marketing stunt or late April Fools' joke, but Johnson insists that's not the case.
"Ultimately, we want to make sure our customers are ready for 4G here in the U.K., and all the extra work their thumbs are going to be doing," he said. "With our 4G network launching this summer, it's a bit late for an April Fools!"
But overuse of our thumbs to text or type on smartphones is a legitimate concern, said Nicola Goldsmith, who worked with O2 to craft some exercises.
"We know that things like using a keyboard is implicated in some people's pain and symptomology in their hands," Goldsmith said. "We made a program for people so they could strengthen their intrinsic and extrinsic thumb muscles."
Goldsmith's tips include resting your forearm when you can, not gripping the phone too hard, using a phone with a touchscreen, rather than one with a keyboard and watching your neck position. She said the Thumbells were developed to be a bit "tongue and cheek," but that they could really build muscle strength.
"They help build the muscle. If you are moving your muscle through ranges of motion it will strengthen the muscle," she said. "Obviously, you need to slowly increase the repetitions and frequency you do it."
Thumbells isn't the first product to target those with smartphone-enduced thumb problems. The Xtensor, a thumb and hand exercise glove, was marketed a few years back at those with "BlackBerry thumb." And before that there were remedies offered for video gamers who had "Gamer's thumb."
Of course, touchscreen smartphones, which now dominate the smartphone market, have put less strain on thumbs. John Indalecio, a certified hand therapist at the Hand Therapy Center at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, urges people to use their index fingers. But Goldsmith still believes the thumb deserves some special attention, and while she wouldn't consider this an "epidemic," she said that anything we use so often requires some monitoring.
"I think anyone who is going to do any activity on a daily basis they should be looking at how their bodies respond to them," she said. "The thumb is such a complicated and such an important digit.