Working a repetitive job can sometimes be boring, but when you have carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s downright awful. If you frequently experience pain or numbness in the palm of your hand, and it moves up through the wrist into the arm, it’s likely you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Unfortunately, many of us have jobs that involve repetitive motions or the use of vibrating equipment — think driving, using a computer, sanding, knitting, or assembly line work. These activities can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Read on to learn what you can do to prevent getting this syndrome, or to ease the pain if you’re already a sufferer.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a squeezing at the wrist of the median nerve, a nerve that runs down your forearm and into the palm of your hand. This is the nerve that controls the sensations you feel on the palm side of your thumb and fingers, except the little finger. It also controls the impulses sent to muscles that control movement of the fingers and thumb. The carpal tunnel is the passageway that houses the median nerve and tendons. Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can make it difficult to grab and hold onto objects, and may even lead the thumb muscles to waste away.
Often, symptoms start with a burning or itching sensation in the hand, especially in the thumb, index and middle fingers. You may feel as though your fingers are swollen. Symptoms tend to be worse in the mornings, and may go away entirely during the day, at least during the early stages of the syndrome.
Some risk factors for carpal tunnel are out of your control — people with smaller carpal tunnels, for instance, are more likely to have their median nerves squeezed, and women are three times more likely to develop the syndrome than men. However, there are a few things anyone can do at work to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Tips to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Move it! Certain types of exercise can be very beneficial in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, especially stretching and strengthening exercises. Take time throughout the workday to stretch and perform basic exercises, and you’ll lower your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. In particular, shake out and stretch your wrists. Many people swear by yoga for reducing risk of developing the syndrome. In addition to the direct benefits of exercise, it also helps maintain a healthy body weight, further reducing your risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Create an ergonomic workspace. If you spend most of the day using a computer, position it directly in front of you. Adjust your chair so that your forearms are level with the keyboard.
- Get an ergonomic mousepad, keyboard or keyboard pad. Pads prop up your hands to keep your fingers, palms and wrists in proper position. Ergonomic keyboards allow you to maintain a more natural wrist position while typing. You may also want to invest in a vertical mouse, which allows you to point your thumb upward while you’re working.
- Take breaks. Repetitive tasks can take a toll on your wrists, so if your wrists feel in need of a break, they probably are. If possible, rotate tasks throughout the day so that you’re not in the same position constantly. If you’re not able to rotate tasks, try to at least rotate which hand you use for repetitive motions.
- Use correct posture and wrist position. Slouching throws off more than just the musculature in your back — your whole body can be affected. Be sure that when performing repetitive tasks, you’re keeping your wrists as straight as possible. If you’re able, choose to use workstations, tools and tool handles designed to keep your wrists in a natural position during work.
- Wear fingerless gloves if you’re working in a cold environment. This can prevent stiffness in the fingers.
- Wear splints to keep wrists straight. If you’re at particular risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, it may be worth taking this extra precaution to keep your wrists in good working order.
Dealing With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you suspect you already have carpal tunnel syndrome, your first move should be to see your doctor. Treatment options include the following:
- Figure out what’s causing the problem. Determine whether any other medical conditions are causing or making worse your carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes, treating a related issue can relieve the problem.
- Stop doing tasks that cause pain. It may be easier said than done when your job is on the line, but your symptoms will never go away if you keep doing the tasks that are causing your carpal tunnel syndrome. If you do have to perform these tasks, make sure to take frequent breaks to relieve the pain.
- Get a massage. Do you really need an excuse to get your hands and wrists massaged? Not only is this great stress relief, it may relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Apply ice. If you’re experiencing swelling as a result of the syndrome, ice can reduce the swelling, which takes pressure off the median nerve.
- Wear a wrist splint. As mentioned above, keeping the wrist straight during repetitive tasks can go a long way toward relieving your symptoms.
- Take NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, won’t cure carpal tunnel syndrome, but they may provide temporary relief from the symptoms.
- Try acupuncture. Some people swear by this alternative therapy for relieving symptoms.
- Get surgery. Most sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome will not need to pursue this last-resort option, but for those with severe, chronic carpal tunnel syndrome or those with nerve damage, surgery can be a great option. Carpal tunnel surgery involves cutting a ligament inside the carpal tunnel, which takes pressure off the median nerve.
About the Author: Patty Englebaugh founded ErgoStoreOnline.com in 1993. She has 19 years of experience installing ergonomic office furniture and computer accessories that create healthy work environments in home and corporate offices as well as in the healthcare, education, government, and business sectors. Call her today (Mon-Fri 8-6pm EST) for one-on-one support for your ergonomic needs: (877) 971-0151.
Image courtesy of Dmitry Dzhus.