Lifestyle

Preventing and Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

by . April 15th, 2015

mustnot

Our hands and wrists are some of the most complex structures in an already complex body.

While most knowledge workers are actually having some trouble getting enough activity overall during the course of a working day, hands and wrists often get an incredibly punishing workout, with repetitive strain injuries (RSI) afflicting an estimated 80% of office workers by some estimates.

Of all the common RSI’s, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most commonly reported as  well as likely the most familiar.

Carpal tunnel syndrome however, is often not well understood by the and there are plenty of other common ailments mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome, including but not limited to trigger finger, tendinitis, tendinosis, cubital tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, focal dystonia, radial tunnel syndrome.

It helps to understand what the heck your carpal tunnel actually is. Here’s an illustration from everyone’s favorite source, Wikipedia:

815_The_Carpal_Tunnel

 

source

To simplify matters, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) happens when the nerves (specifically the median nerves) in your wrists are “trapped” or impinged in some way, or starved of blood flow. This commonly happens due to a number of reasons:

  • diabetes
  • pre-diabetes
  • trauma
  • obesity
  • hormonal imbalances
  • sleeping positions that bend the wrist
  • tumors
  • genetics
  • gender (women tend to be “built” in a way that makes it somewhat easier to acquire CTS.)
  • repetitive manual work that involves bending the wrists

The main symptom of CTS is intermittent numbness of the thumb, index, long and radial half of the ring finger.

carpal_tunnel

 source

The affected area may also be unable to sense the differences between cold and hot. If left untreated, the numbness turns to a searing pain intense enough to wake you up at night.

I know the symptoms well, having experienced carpal tunnel syndrome five years ago, thanks to my copywriting job as well as some bad work habits.

mustnot

It started out slowly. First, my fingers went numb, but not distressingly so. Next, I was missing keys on the keyboard. My brain would think I’d hit the spacebar with my right thumb, when in fact, it only moved a couple of inches, weakly thumping the space immediately before the keyboard.

After a few days, I was literally unable to do a left click on a computer mouse, which was normally at my right-hand side. I also found it absolutely impossible to play bass. Being a lefty, I rely on my right hand for holding down positions on the fretboard.

Writing and playing bass were pretty much the only things I did. Naturally, I was felt scared that I wouldn’t be able to do those things ever again. Worse was the fact insurance wouldn’t cover my condition. I was only 25 years old, so CTS was definitely a huge downer.

Fortunately, I had decided to act on it in its early stages, before any real pain started kicking in. It took about half a year before all the numbness went away, but I was able to regain most of my movement in around three months.


Here are some of the things I personally tried.


  • I started using my left hand for my home computer mouse, and only kept it at my right hand position at work.
  • Re-arranged my workspace to be more ergonomic. My desk, chair, keyboard, and monitors are still at specific heights to keep my wrists bent as little as possible.
  • Forced myself to learn how to type differently from how I’m normally accustomed to, to keep my wrist straight.
  • Did exercises recommended by a therapist. Here are some of them:

Wrist-gliding exercises can help prevent CTS from ever flaring up, but they can also be used to manage the pain and tingling associated with a full-blown case. In my personal experience, the pain didn’t go away all at once, but I was able to regain a lot of my previous range of motion in a short time.

Hold each position for about 10 seconds, whenever you get a chance for a short break. If in doubt, ask your therapist.

Tendon-gliding

source

These are a few somewhat more involved exercises you probably want a bit more space for. Try to do 10 reps for the exercises and the stretches for 10 seconds, at least twice a day. Shake your limbs a bit after each exercise.

xcarptun_3

 source

It’s fine to do a little more than ten reps or ten seconds if you no longer feel as much discomfort, but don’t overdo it, or you might create tears in your tendons that may end up restricting your range of motion. Again, ask your therapist if you might need anything different from these recommendations.

  • Looked for alternate exercises online. The one in the video feels great regardless of whether or not you have CTS. Like mainstream therapy, the idea is to allow for more “wrist glide”.

  • I wore a compression glove to reduce wrist flexion. You can buy these from most stores, or make one yourself.
  • Stopped playing bass entirely for a few months. This was the hardest part! You really have to rest up a bit to speed the healing process, otherwise you might end up injuring yourself even more. I compensated by doing rhythm and listening exercises with percussion instruments (it was a desk, if you’re interested), since these are areas that also crucial to bass playing that I didn’t concentrate on previously.

Other professional recommendations for carpal tunnel syndrome prevention and treatment


Move around more

You can probably stand to have more exercise. Obesity is positively correlated with incidences of CTS, but the mechanism by which they are connected has not been positively identified.

Take pain seriously

If the exercises or whatever you’re doing hurts, STOP. Anything beyond a mild burn when you stretch is likely a cause for concern.

Take regular breaks

This is dependent on individual limits, but it’s generally agreed you should probably take a couple of minutes to limber up up and relax every hour at the very least.

Limit wrist pressure

CTS is almost always due to pressure on the wrist. Avoid or at least cut back on activities that require you to bend your wrists for repeated or extended periods of time.

Make your own ergonomic modifications

Set your chair levels, monitors, armrests and desk heights in a way that encourages a straight line from fingertip to elbow. Don’t forget to take your back and posture into account too! We don’t want back problems from ill-conceived ergonomic mods either. If you can find a professional ergonomist and can afford their services, this might be the best way to go.

More: 14 Ideas for Optimizing Your Workspace [Infographic]

See a doctor!

A lot of the time, we don’t like to admit we’re in need of any help. Seeing a medical professional isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you are willing to look for real solutions to real problems.

Hopefully you catch CTS early and are able to manage it with the advice above.  These passive techniques take a lot of time, and dedication and it can be easy to forget to do your stretches. The most effective way to treat CTS incidentally, is surgery — and you probably don’t want to go that route unless you absolutely have to.

Tell us which piece of advice will ruin some random person’s lives forever? Does it matter? Comment below!


Disclaimer: YouTheEntrepreneur is not affiliated with the author of the infographic or any of the sites mentioned. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.