Sitting in front of the computer all day, every day, seems harmless, but that twinge of pain you felt in your wrist last week and occasional numbness could lead to a more serious problem down the road. Whether you are working from home or sitting in your office, you could be one of the eight million Americans affected by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Although the initial symptoms might not look or feel alarming, the long-term effects they pose to your health are. If you spend all day typing at your desk, read on to find out how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome with simple, everyday changes.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that develops over time due to the presence of a pinched nerve, most commonly the median nerve, or general overuse. The median nerve is what provides feeling to your fingers, excluding the pinky.
At the base of your palm near the wrist is the carpal tunnel, which is formed by three small wrist bones surrounding it and the soft tissues near the skin surface. When the median nerve is squeezed due to swelling in the wrist, it is blocked from sending impulses to the hand.
This condition is one of the most common in the workplace, despite only affecting no more than two percent of the population. Carpal tunnel is most common in demographics of 40 years of age and up, but it can develop regardless of age.
Most Common Signs:
People who use repetitive motions on a daily basis, such as clicking a mouse or typing, can develop symptoms. There are several tell-tale signs that one may have carpal tunnel:
- Sharp pain in the wrist
- Numbness and tingling in the hand
- Inflammation of the wrist
- Severe nighttime pain
- Weakened grip
Symptoms typically will appear during mundane activities, like reading a book, in the early morning or late evening. Due to the source of carpal tunnel being pinched nerves in the wrist, simple activities that engage them, like reading a book, are enough to heighten symptoms.
Tingling and numbness are the most common symptoms. Most people have experienced the pins-and-needles effect in their hands at some point, but this can also be caused by temperature changes, nerve irritation, or stress. Numbness can be caused by a multitude of factors, such as nerve entrapment syndromes, which happens when nerves are chronically constricted.
How Likely Am I to Get It?
Some individuals won’t even know when they have carpal tunnel, because their initial symptoms may be mild by comparison.
Some common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Pregnancy and related cause fluid retention may cause temporary carpal tunnel syndrome
- Trauma to the wrist can causing it to swell
- Rheumatoid Arthritis and the swelling of joints
- Having a smaller carpal tunnel makes it more likely to develop a pinched nerve
- The repetitive motion of typing depending on your wrist position
Chances are that you could be one of the millions of people who are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Research shows that men are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel in the workplace than women. Even if you aren’t within the average age range, ten percent of reported cases are in individuals 30 years of age or younger.
Is Your Job Causing Your Wrist Pain?
You may have stopped to ask yourself this exact question, and for good reason.
Studies show that when using a keyboard every day, you can develop carpal tunnel over time due to the angle of your risk.
There are simple ways to keep yourself in check and find out what works best for you and your body. Wrist posture is something everyone should be aware of when using a computer. The repetitive motion from typing and the constant bent position of your wrist can put pressure on your median nerve and lead to some serious discomfort over time.
So how should you sit to avoid all of this?
Your keyboard should be at the correct height to allow your elbows to be bent to about 90 degrees by your side when typing. This can be achieved by adjusting your chair height, but keep in mind that you still want your feet to be flat on the ground. The main goal is to save your wrist from long term irritation by keeping it at 180 degrees when typing or using a mouse.
If you type improperly, it isn’t too late to change. Touch typing is typing using only your fingers without looking at the keyboard, and it allows you to work very efficiently. You can learn this practice by looking for games or classes online and the skill will last you a lifetime.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel
Many people don’t realize how often they rely on their wrist for subtle actions throughout the day. You are constantly grabbing and touching objects, and you need to maintain strength in your wrists to do normal tasks.
Reducing external stress probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when you sit down at your computer but working in just a few simple techniques will show you how to help prevent carpal tunnel and put your mind at ease for the future.
Set up for Success
When you work a desk job, every day is important when it comes to keeping yourself healthy. Setting up your workspace with care will have lasting effects on your whole body. You don’t have to go out and buy a whole new keyboard or chair but using what you already have in the right way will help you.
Try using a keyboard with a decreased slope, or a split keyboard to minimize stress on your wrists. Make sure you have your computer screen around eye-level to prevent from slouching your shoulders and protecting your neck. Propping your wrists and forearms to keep everything aligned can also be achieved with certain mousepads or even a rolled-up washcloth.
Misusing your workspace can cause neck pain, back pain, and stiffness in your joints, which is why it’s important to make a conscious effort to make typing posture a routine.
Taking Regular Breaks From Your Computer
Not only will stepping away from your computer for 15 minutes every hour help reduce the risk of injury, but it will help you mentally. Your job may be centered around computer screens, but your mental wellbeing is elevated when you momentarily “unplug” throughout the day.
Getting up from your desk and taking a breather will help calm you, and will increase blood flow to your entire body.
This will allow you to collect yourself and stay productive throughout the day because you give your eyes a break from blue light. Stretching at your desk will also help increase circulation, reduce muscle tension, and improve your posture.
Stretch Your Wrists
Taking a few minutes during the day to stretch your wrists can have an amazing effect on preventing potential strain. The benefits of stretching are endless, and the best part about stretching your wrist is that you can do it while you sit at your desk, while you’re walking to the next meeting, or heating your leftovers up in the break room.
Yoga for the wrists and hands provides a great opportunity to stretch and strengthen your wrists. For example, grab a tennis ball and squeeze it 5 times in each hand every hour, or practice clenching a fist in each hand.
As an alternative, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms outward, palms facing away from you. Then slowly move your arms up and over your head and hold that position for 15 seconds.
While these “exercises” may seem like they’re making insignificant impacts at first, you will find that once they are a part of your daily routine, they exponentially improve how your hands feel during the most subtle of activities.
These stretches can help strengthen the muscles around the wrist over time and relieve any stress. While you’re at it, try stretching the rest of your body to get the full benefits.
Taking care of your hands might seem insignificant in the big picture, but it’s the little things that can add up to a bigger issue.
Something people don’t consider often is nail length. Many people report difficulty hitting the keys on their computers and keeping their hands and wrists neutral while having long nails.
Keeping your nails at a short and manageable length is ideal for having a desk job. If you are feeling strain in your fingers and hands, be sure to give yourself a hand massage to relax the muscles. If you also try and keep your hands warm, this will decrease the chances of your hands becoming stiff because of the cold AC.
Be More Mindful
Have you ever grabbed a pen to write down some notes and noticed that your knuckles are turning white from your grip?
How about when you hold your phone to your ear on a conference call?
Being more mindful about your body and being gentle can do a lot for your joints. As human beings, we often don’t notice when we do something with too much force especially when we do that thing every day. Try and do everyday tasks with a little more care and keep your wrists in mind to keep them from becoming sore.
Keeping Your Wrists Neutral
Throughout the day, try to avoid leaning on the heal of your wrists when typing or writing, and keep them in line with your forearms. This allows your wrist to be strain free around the median nerve and will help prevent carpal tunnel.
For an added layer of protection, use a wrist brace throughout the day and at night. These are small fabric sleeves that wrap around you thumb and cover halfway down your palm to an inch or two below the wrist. A brace can allow you to function normally with normal tasks like typing, while assisting in keeping the pressure off of your median nerve.
Is It Time to See a Doctor?
Every living person has aches and pains. Maybe you have started waking up to a sharp pain in your wrist or you often have a hard time keeping a grip on objects, but you don’t think it could be serious.
If you begin to develop symptoms that are persistent, don’t ignore the warning signs. Seeking help from a doctor is how you prevent carpal tunnel from getting worse if you are already showing symptoms.
Minor injuries only require ice and some healing time, but that might not be the case every time. Small pains can gradually get worse if you don’t take the steps to prevent them or treat the issue, and you should never ignore hand pain.
Keep in mind that hand and wrist irritation can lead to surgery, and in 2015 carpal tunnel syndrome resulted in an average of 28 days taken off of work when left untreated.
Practice Only Makes for Improvement
Now that you are a pro and know how to prevent carpal tunnel, don’t let your wrist pain turn into something serious. Be sure to use these tips at work, at home, or even in the grocery store if need be, your body will thank you later.
For more information, be sure to visit our blog to read more on other hand injuries and preventative techniques. If you find yourself suffering from chronic pain in your wrists or hands, schedule an appointment with us today for a consultation.