Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a debilitating condition that causes pain and limits both range of motion and strength in the hands, wrists, fingers, and forearms.
Thankfully, you can go a long way toward averting the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome with some simple adjustments to your daily routine. Below, we’ll break down 5 ways you can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the arm down to the palm of the hand, is compressed or squeezed inside a narrow passageway at the base of the hand, called the carpal tunnel. It is estimated that between three and eight percent of the U.S. working population suffers from CTS.
Pressure on the carpal tunnel can occur due to repetitive movements, inflammation of hand tendons, or medical conditions that cause inflammation in the body, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is more common in women than in men.
CTS symptoms usually start gradually. The first symptoms often include numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers that comes and goes. The sensation may travel from your wrist up to your arm. These symptoms generally occur while holding a steering wheel, phone, or newspaper, and they may wake you from sleep.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the most common symptoms of CTS include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hand
- An electric shock-like feeling mostly in the thumb, index, or long fingers
- Unusual sensations and pain that travels up the arm toward the shoulder
- Weakness in the hand
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
1. Be Less Tense and Loosen Your Grip
Often, in our daily routines, we get so used to doing things a certain way that we don’t even think about it. Many times, you may use more force than you need to accomplish a specific task. For instance, you might grip your tools too tightly when a firm hold is sufficient. Or you may pound your computer keyboard when gentle keystrokes will do.
As you go through your day, be mindful of the tension in your hands and how much pressure you put on them. Don’t use more force than needed to perform manual tasks. Try using less force when typing, holding a pencil, or gripping and grasping tools.
In general, be less tense and loosen your grip when you’re working with your hands. If you can back off even a little, your hands and wrists will thank you.
2. Take Frequent Breaks from Repetitive Activities
If you spend a lot of time participating in activities that involve forceful or repetitive hand or wrist movement or use of vibrating equipment, you have an increased risk for CTS. These activities can include driving, working with small instruments, knitting, or using a sander. You can reduce your risk (and any existing symptoms) by taking frequent breaks (every 10 to 15 minutes) to rest, stretch, change positions, or alternate with another task.
Repeating the same hand and wrist movement over a long period can aggravate the tendons in your wrist, resulting in swelling and increased pressure on the median nerve. Look for different ways to move your hands and wrists when performing functions that require repetitive hand motions. Moreover, try to take frequent breaks whenever performing actions that require extreme or prolonged bending of your hand and wrist. Investigate alternative hand motions for these jobs.
Stretching and exercising help strengthen the muscles in your wrists and hands. Also, taking time out to stretch provides time for your muscles and tendons to relax and alleviates pressure on the median nerve (the root cause of CTS).
Common exercises include rotating your wrists in circles and flexing and extending your palms, fingers, and wrists. A therapeutic exercise and stretching program is one treatment option your healthcare provider may recommend. It may be incorporated with bracing or splinting, medication, and activity changes to relieve symptoms.
4. Adjust Your Workstation
Pay attention to your use of the computer monitor, chair, keyboard, and mouse, along with other equipment and tools to make sure your workspace is as ergonomic as possible. Adjust your working environment and how you use it, as needed. You can also use a similar setup for other work areas, such as where you work on your hobbies or utilize hand tools.
You can use these tips to guide you in setting up your workstation:
- The top of the monitor screen is at eye level
- A wrist pad at the bottom of the keyboard helps keep the wrists in a neutral, almost straight position during brief rests from typing
- Armrests are adjusted so that the elbows are close to the side of the body and bent at an angle between 90 and 100 degrees
- Many people benefit from using a split, V-shaped keyboard to keep the wrists in proper alignment
5. Use Correct Posture
If you work on a computer or at your desk all day, it is essential to ensure you keep your back, neck, and shoulders upright and your feet flat on the floor. A slouching posture causes the nerves in your neck to compress, affecting your wrists, fingers, and hands (after all, everything is connected).
As stated above, ergonomic furniture assists in maintaining correct posture and wrist position. Don’t skimp on cheap office chairs. Your body and wrists are worth the investment!
Some people find wrist pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse. When you type or use your mouse, try raising your forearms a little so your wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely.
If you have armrests on your chair, you may be able to adjust them so your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. You may want to alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up.
When setting up your work area:
- Center your work in front of you. If you work while standing, adjust your work surface to waist height.
- Keep your hands and wrists in line with your forearms. For example, if you work at a keyboard, tilt it to help keep this alignment.
- Use proper hand and wrist position for manual tasks.
- Hold your elbows close to your sides.
- Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand or your wrist.
If you’d like to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome and how to prevent it, please feel free to contact us.