Most people could never imagine that their desk job could be hazardous to their health; however, a serious injury called carpal tunnel syndrome is common among office workers and other workers who engage in repetitive motions of the wrist/arm.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The carpal tunnel – a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand – houses the median nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed. The result may be pain, weakness, numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm, or cold sensations and swelling in the fingers, wrists and forearm may also be experienced. Although painful sensations may indicate other conditions, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common and widely known of the entrapment neuropathies in which the body’s peripheral nerves are compressed or traumatized.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Symptoms of carpal tunnel typically begin gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers, especially the thumb, index and middle fingers. The symptoms often first begin at night, due to the majority of people sleeping with their wrists flexed. A person may report waking up in the middle of the night with the need to “shake out” the hand/wrist. As symptoms begin to worsen, people will feel them during the day too. Carpal tunnel can lead to decreased grip strength, making it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks.
Most people with carpal tunnel syndrome want nothing more than for the pain and numbness to resolve. Luckily, there are a few simple steps people can take to help prevent the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
Pay attention to desk ergonomics. The way your computer, chair and keyboard are set up may have a major effect on carpal tunnel syndrome. It may help to prevent CTS if your keyboard and mouse are within your forearm’s length. In addition, the height of your chair should allow your forearms to be level with your keyboard so your wrists don’t flex while you type.
Take a break to stretch. Many of us get carried away with our work and hours pass without taking a break from the computer. But, our bodies aren’t meant to stay in the same position for long periods, so it’s important that we take regular breaks from using the mouse and keyboard. It’s also helpful in preventing CTS to perform wrist exercises regularly.
Invest in new equipment. There are many types of equipment for sale today that can help with CTS. One is an ergonomic keyboard, which places your hands and wrist in a natural position. Another option is a mouse that has been modified to allow your thumb to point straight up. You can also try using long pads that run the length of your keyboard to prop up the heels of your palms, which keeps the nerve from being squeezed. And if your mousing hand is the hand that bothers you, try using a mouse pad with a support cushion so you can rest your wrist more comfortably. Although these devices may take a while to get used to, they may be worth trying!