We all do it. Maybe more than we like to admit.

We all take selfies.

Really, it’s not our fault. We live in a selfie-dominated world, Instagram rose to popularity on the back of the selfie, smartphones have selfie cameras – remember the time when there was just one camera on a smartphone and it was pointed away from us? Ridiculous.

But all this selfie stuff, it’s harmless fun, right? Except for taking too many and identifying yourself as completely self-absorbed, nothing bad can happen from taking a few selfies, right?

Well, that was before “selfie elbow”. Yes, that’s a real thing.

Do you have pain in your elbow? A soreness when you go to take the next 500 selfies? That could be selfie elbow. Seems like there’s more at risk than accidently exposing your inner narcissist when taking a bunch of selfies – you might be putting yourself physically at risk.

To be fair this isn’t the first tech-related injury.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, which became associated with overusing a keyboard or mouse or both back in the 1990s, was the feared plague of the tech community. This spawned cushioned mouse pads and ergonomic keyboards – which used to make my wrists hurt more, but maybe I’m an anomaly.

Then at the start of the century, there was BlackBerry Thumb. Remember the BlackBerry? It had a raised keypad and BlackBerry Messenger that paved the way for data texting services like Line, WhatsApp and iMessage before eventually going the way of Betamax video tapes. Well, overuse of its trusty keypad was said to cause strain in the thumb doing the majority of the tapping.

And what about iPad hand? Which is strain from the hand that one usually holds one’s iPad with. And who knows what kind of strain could happen from trying to take selfies with one’s tablet – presumably some manner of dismemberment could occur.

There is a whole list of injuries stemming from overuse of technology. But basically, they’re all the same type of injury, they’re all Repetitive Strain Injuries or RSIs. And Selfie Elbow is no different.

A repetitive strain injury is exactly what it sounds like. Strain from doing something over and over again. Outside of tech-related examples, poultry workers and miners are cited as two types of workers that make repetitive motions that could result in RSIs.

It’s the same with tech problems. Constant tapping on that smartphone, always holding your tablet, and with Selfie Elbow it’s all about taking an unending stream of selfies that results in RSI’s.

Basically, the human elbow is not designed to extend and hold something in place – in this case, a smartphone – for extended periods of time. These aren’t typically dramatic strains, where you feel or hear something pop and know that you’re going to feel that in the morning. Repetitive strain injuries are sneaky, creeping maladies that happen a little at a time over a long period until one day you’ve got a nagging ache and your Instagram account is filled with food-only photos because selfies are just too darned painful to take anymore.

RSI’s cause inflammation in the tendons of the affected area, which causes the soreness we perceive when doing a specific task – in the case of Selfie Elbow, that task is photographing ourselves. But RSI’s are not uncommon. In fact, repetitive strain injuries first became widespread in the 1970s when more and more workers began spending time on typewriters and computers.

It’s odd to think that so many injuries can be associated with something that has virtually no physicality to it at all. Technology doesn’t bring up images of people with hurt elbows and wrists, but that’s exactly what is happening as our lives become more and more intertwined with this kind of tech. Maybe we’re heading towards a point where evolution will favour those not susceptible to RSIs. In fact, thousands of work hours are lost each year due to RSIs. So it is having some effect.

But if you are feeling a soreness in your arm and think you might have Selfie Elbow, what can you do about it?

The old solutions still work. Put some ice on it. Stretching is good. Maybe learn to take those selfies faster, instead of holding your hand out and posing for minutes at a time while you work on that perfect pout, or that perfect eye squint. And of course, if all those methods fail you could always just, you know, take a break from taking pictures of yourself for a while.


Catch Jason Godfrey on The LINK on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728).