How to Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Wrist, hand or back pain? If anyone close to you has ever suffered with Carpal Tunnel, you probably already know just how painful and difficult it can be to live with on a daily basis. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs most frequently in those who use a computer on a daily basis, or while performing other repetitive movements, such as playing a sport, working on an assembly line or playing a musical instrument. The average sufferer is been between the ages of 30 and 60; women are typically more affected by carpal tunnel than men are. Younger people are getting affected earlier as computer usage starts.
Left untreated over time, sufferers of Carpal Tunnel can find themselves with permanent nerve damage and chronic pain in their hands, wrists, and forearms. This is why it is very important to professionally diagnose and treat this condition as quickly as possible. A medical doctor who specializes in hands or a neurologist is a critical first step. However, there are simple exercises and changes in your day-to-day routine that may help alleviate the symptoms associated with Carpal Tunnel. This is a debilitating, but ultimately treatable condition. Be sure to discuss the treatments suggested below with your doctor prior to starting any of them.
What Exactly is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a type of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) that refers to pressure on the median nerve, which is the nerve that controls movement and feeling within your hand. The area where that nerve connects to your hand is referred to as the carpal tunnel, which is how this condition got its name. When your carpal tunnel winds up with too much pressure as a result of swelling, this can cause significant pain in your hand, fingers, wrist, and forearm. You may also experience weakness, tingling, or numbness in the area. Most People with an RSI do not have Carpal Tunnel, there are other problems that are occurring.
Do You Have Carpal Tunnel?
Many of us go through life without ever properly diagnosing the pain we experience in our hands, wrists, and arms as truly being associated with Carpal Tunnel. It is important to realize that if you do indeed have it, the pain you are experiencing, even if it is intermittent, is not likely to simply go away. This is especially true if you spend multiple hours at a computer every day. While a professional diagnosis from a medical doctor who specializes in RSI is required, here are some questions you can answer to help determine if you may be suffering from this condition:
- Do you experience pain in your hands, arms, or wrists during or after working at the computer—sometimes for extended periods of time?
- Do you find yourself dropping more items?
- Do you have poor posture (rounded shoulders, curved back)?
- Are simple daily activities, such as flossing your teeth, or gripping a can or bottle causing you pain in your hands?
- Do you ever experience pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands or wrists after driving, using your smartphone, or playing video games?
- Are your hands or wrist hurting when you wake up, after driving, after playing videogames or using your smartphone?
- Is your posture hunched over? Do you have forward head syndrome when you stand? Look in a mirror
If you answered, “yes” to any of these, it does not guarantee that you have Carpal Tunnel, but you should definitely investigate further. Obtaining a professional diagnosis is the next step you should take. Remember that the medical doctor you consult with should be a specialist in, or at least very well versed in, treating hands and RSI.
Tips While Working
For many of us, using a computer at a desk for multiple hours a day is simply a required part of our work activities. As such, an RSI can have a significant impact on our ability to work, which is why it is important to take steps now to reduce the chances of flare-ups. Here are some tips to consider while you are working:
Focus on proper posture. Allowing your back to hunch over, or your shoulders to become rounded, can dramatically affect the effects of Carpal Tunnel because of the increased pressure you inadvertently place on your hands and wrists due to forward head position.
Take breaks! It is critical that you take your eyes off your computer screen at least once every 15 minutes. Get up and walk around a minimum of once per hour, but if you can take more frequent pauses, it is highly recommended that you do so. Stretch your arms and body. Powering through pain is not a solution.
Consider voice recognition software. If you have to write all day long, you may want to think about purchasing voice recognition software to assist you. Voice recognition software requires some training time so the program can “learn” your voice, but past that, it will allow you to write emails, memos, letters, or anything else you normally type out at your computer simply by talking into your headset. Smartphone also have voice recognition, allowing less tapping to be done.
Stretching your Body
Sitting at a desk for hours each day, leave you in a static position, causing muscles to get out of wack. Your doctor or physical therapist should prescribe you a program to stretch out parts of the body that have been affected. You need to follow their advice.
People with mild to moderate symptoms can often avoid surgery through a good program. Stretches often involve loosing up the hands, arms, and shoulder. Strengthening takes place after healing has occurred.
We have found pilates, yoga, and tai chi useful in helping us mobilze our muscles and addressing our imbalances.
Here are some stretches that helped us. Your physical therapist can suggest ones that work for your injuries.
Pectoralis Doorway Stretch
Wrist Flexor - Extensor Stretch
Levator Scapulae Stretch
Reverse Superman Stretch
Two Tennis balls Taped - Mobilize Thoracic spine
Your health care providers should also prescribe icing for regions feeling pain. Be careful to not overdo ibuprofen and other pain killers.
Ergonomic Office Equipment
Many types of RSI can be caused for a variety of reasons, from playing a particular sport to performing simple housework. When it comes to other certain RSI, however, the majority of sufferers are heavy computer users who do a significant amount of typing and using a mouse on a day-to-day basis.
To meet this need, some companies have begun creating office equipment, including wrist rests, monitor arms, ergonomic chars, and sit/standing workstations, which are more ergonomic. The design of the equipment allows your hands and wrists to remain in a natural position while working, which can reduce pressure. Many companies are willing to purchase ergonomic equipment to prevent RSI. When purchasing ergonomic equipment, always be sure to double-check the return policy.
Gripping the steering wheel of your vehicle can cause RSI flare-ups quite easily, especially if the affected area is already exacerbated. If you have a severe RSI, you may do best to avoid driving as much as possible; consider having a family member or friend drive you to work, or utilizing public transportation. While this may be inconvenient and/or add time to your daily commute, it will give your hands and wrists time to heal faster.
If you absolutely cannot avoid driving, consider these tips:
- Bring ice packs in a cooler in the car and ice the affected areas during red lights.
- Ensure your posture is optimal while driving; pillows and seat adjustments may help with this.
- Consider trading in a stick-shift vehicle for one with an automatic transmission.
- Padded cycling gloves may make it easier to grip the wheel; also try adding a padded steering wheel cover.
- Hold the steering wheel in a more ergonomic way, placing your hands at the “5 o’clock” and “7 o’clock” spots. This allows your knees to support your hands and wrists more easily.
Sleeping and RSI
Often times your symptoms will become more pronounced after sleeping. Some people sleep on their hands, other sleep with their hands in awkward positions. Your physical therapist may suggest a night splint to prevent this problem. You could also wrap your arms in a cotton sheeting.
Recent research has indicated that massage therapy may be one way to help reduce the pain and inflammation of RSIs. That being said, not all massage therapists are created equal; in the wrong hands, you could potentially wind up doing more harm than good. Therefore, you will do best to focus on only allowing Certified Massage Therapists (CMTs) with experience in treating RSI to work with you.
Don’t just walk into any random spa or massage treatment center—do your homework first. You should insist on talking to the therapist ahead of time and quiz him or her on her knowledge of myofascial release and trigger points. Discuss the specific muscle groups he or she plans on focusing on; the forearms, palms, pectoralis minor, pectoralis major, and scalenes should all be mentioned. If they aren't, or if the therapist seems defensive or confused by your questions, you may want to find yourself another one who has more education and/or experience. Ask how past clients have used their services.
Hot & Cold Transition Baths
The concept of switching between hot and cold baths to alleviate pain and discomfort in your body is an old one—the ancient Romans routinely utilized hot/cold transition plunges as a regular part of their bathing practices. Advocates claim many benefits associated with hot/cold water therapy, including increased energy, improved circulation, and detoxification.
Today, hot and cold transition baths are an excellent way to help reduce the discomfort associated with RSI. This is partially because as you switch from one bath to the next, your muscles expand and contract, which can provide relief. To try this for yourself:
- Fill two pitchers; one with hot water, the other with cold water. Consider adding ice cubes to the cold pitcher.
- Submerge your arm into either pitcher for about 60 seconds.
- Remove arm from the pitcher, then immediately submerge it in the other one.
- Repeat the process 3-5 times.
- Perform this routine 1-3 times daily.
While RSIs can be painful and difficult to cope with, there are multiple avenues for treatment. Trying any of these practices, or a combination of them, may help you manage the discomfort more effectively. As mentioned, don’t forget to run any treatment past your medical doctor prior to implementing at home or in the office.