by Arthur Piccio . April 15th, 2015
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:
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:
The main symptom of CTS is intermittent numbness of the thumb, index, long and radial half of the ring finger.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the exercises or whatever you’re doing hurts, STOP. Anything beyond a mild burn when you stretch is likely a cause for concern.
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.
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.
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]
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!
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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.