Understanding and Fighting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Workplace

Are you experiencing pain and discomfort in your hands, especially at work? You may discover what 3 million Americans every year are finding out- that you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is the small space between your wrist bones, through which your median nerve and several tendons pass. Swelling and inflammation can make this small space even smaller, putting pressure on your nerve. The result is weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in your hand, especially the thumb and first two fingers.

How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?

Mild cases can often be treated with rest, ice, exercise, and wearing a wrist splint while you sleep. If your case is more serious, a doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs) or a corticosteroid injection.

A severe case may require surgery.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can get carpal tunnel syndrome, but some people are more at risk than others.

Women: For a number of reasons, you’re three times as likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome if you’re female. These reasons are outlined below.

People with Some Anatomical Conditions: If you’ve ever broken your wrist, the carpal tunnel may already be constricted, increasing your risk. If you’re born with a smaller carpal tunnel to begin with (as many women are), you’re also at a greater risk.

Pregnant and Menopausal Women: Hormonal changes during pregnancy and early menopause can increase your chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

People with Autoimmune Disorders: Hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases increase your susceptibility. Women are almost four times more likely to have autoimmune diseases than men.

Older People: For women, the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome peaks at around age 50. For men, the risk continues to increase with age.

Work-Related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: There’s a strong link between carpal tunnel syndrome and the work you do. People who use vibrating tools such as chainsaws and jackhammers are more likely to suffer. Jobs requiring you to use a forceful grip may also increase your risk.

Ways to minimize Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at Work

1. Assess your Work Area

Make sure your workspace is as ergonomic as possible. Set up your desk so that you can sit (or stand) with your forearms parallel to the floor. Your wrists should be in a neutral position and your mouse should be at the same height as your keyboard. Pick a good ergonomic mouse and keyboard that you feel comfortable using even after prolonged periods of time. For many people, a vertical mouse works better, as it mimics a handshake when operating it.

2. Take Breaks

Every hour, stop what you’re doing and take a rest.

Stand up and walk around. The simple change in posture ensures your body isn’t repeating the same motions over and over again, a key factor in developing CTS and other bodily pains.

4. Hand and Wrist Exercises

Simple hand exercises can go a long way in preventing CTS, by stimulating your muscles and promoting blood circulation in the key areas of your hand, fingers ,and wrist.

Try out some of the flexibility and strength exercises listed below. Always be gentle and if something hurts, stop immediately.

a. Range of motion

∙ Flex your wrist, moving it up and down, and from side to side.

∙ Move your hand in a circle that puts your wrist through this full range of motion. Do two clockwise rotations and two counter-clockwise rotations.

b. Wrist flexion stretch:

∙ Hold your arm out in front of you, palm facing down.

∙ Bend your wrist so your fingers point up. Use your other hand to help you (gently!).

∙ Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.

c. Wrist extension stretch:

∙ Hold your arm out in front of you, palm facing down.

∙ Bend your wrist so your fingers point down. Use your other hand to stretch further. Be gentle!

∙ Hold for about 30 seconds.

d. Finger spread:

∙ Start with your hand in a neutral position.

∙ Spread your fingers as far apart as you can comfortably and hold for about 30 seconds.

e. Squeezing:

∙ Hold a ball in your palm and make a fist, squeezing it. Hold for 10 seconds.

∙ You can start with something soft like a stress ball and eventually try a tennis ball for more resistance.

f. Wrist flexion with weight:

∙ Rest your forearm on a bench or table with your hand extending beyond the edge, palm down. Support your forearm with your other hand.

∙ Hold a small dumbbell or any small weight (even a can of soup will work) and curl your wrist upward as far as you can comfortably.

∙ Start out just doing a few repetitions and build towards doing 10 to 15 repetitions.

g. Wrist extension with weight:

∙ Rest your forearm on a bench or table with your hand extending beyond the edge, palm down. Support your forearm with your other hand.

∙ Hold a small weight and bend your wrist downward as far as you can comfortably.

∙ Start small and build towards doing 10 to 15 repetitions.

Yoga Poses

Conclusion

Your work day doesn’t have to be a nightmare because of carpal tunnel syndrome. These steps will help you stay comfortable and even prevent symptoms from coming back once you’re feeling better.

References:

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: https://www.gstatic.com/healthricherkp/pdf/carpal_tunnel_syndrome.pdf

2. WebMD. Corticosteroids for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Available at http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/corticosteroids-for-carpal-tunnel-syndrome

3. Ms Lisa Newington, Dr E Clare Harris, and Dr Karen Walker-Bone. CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME AND WORK Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4759938/

4. Jon Muller. Creating the Perfect Ergonomic Workspace- The ULTIMATE Guide Available At: http://ergonomictrends.com/creating-perfect-ergonomic-workspace-ultimate-guide/