June 30, 2019

Typing Troubles: How to Avoid Wrist Pain

Desk work doesn’t have to leave you hurting

Individual typing on a laptop.

Your fingers are flying across the keyboard, shooting off emails, memos, proposals, summaries and updates. Those impressive typing skills serve you well.

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But what happens when all that typing leads to aching wrists? We talked to orthopaedic surgeon William Seitz, Jr., MD, about what causes wrist or hand pain — and how to prevent it.

Typing and pain

“Using a computer isn’t hazardous in and of itself,” Dr. Seitz says. But if you have any underlying problems with your joints or your skeletal alignment, all those repetitive keystrokes can tip the scales toward pain.

Common underlying problems include previous injuries, osteoarthritis and subtle changes in the curve of the spine or the alignment of limbs due to aging.

“When you have those kinds of things going on, using your hands over and over can make symptoms worse,” Dr. Seitz says.

Wrist pain: causes and kinks

The source of wrist pain isn’t always obvious. An interconnected network of nerves stretches from your fingertips to your neck, Dr. Seitz says. Just like a kink in one end of a garden hose can cause the water to stop at the other end, a kink in your neck or shoulder can cause problems downstream in your wrist or hand.

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Several things can cause pain in the wrist and hands. Some of the more common suspects include:

Carpal tunnel syndrome: This common condition causes pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the hand or wrist. It strikes when swollen tendons press on a nerve in the wrist.

Cubital tunnel syndrome: Also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, this condition is similar to carpal tunnel. It also causes numbness and tingling in the fingers. But it occurs when nerves become compressed in the elbow rather than the wrist.

Arthritis: It can cause swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints. Both types of arthritis can make wrists and hands hurt:

  • Osteoarthritis is more common, caused by wear and tear over time.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that happens when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues.

Wrist pain prevention basics

How can you prevent your wrists from throwing a tantrum? Good ergonomics is your friend, says Dr. Seitz.

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  • Check your setup: Arrange your monitor, mouse and keyboard for your height and body size.
  • Sit straight: Make sure you’re sitting comfortably at your desk and not hunching or leaning forward.
  • Arm yourself: Position your wrists and forearms so they’re nearly straight (not tilted up or down) as you type.
  • Move it: Get up to stretch and move regularly.
  • Go up and down: If possible, switch between sitting and standing as you work.
  • Use good posture: Don’t just focus on your arms. Practice good posture from head to toe to prevent pain in your wrists (and everywhere else).

Help for wrist pain

If you have occasional achiness in your wrists after a long day of typing, it’s probably nothing to worry about, says Dr. Seitz — especially if it goes away when you stretch or resolves within a few days.

But if it persists (or keeps coming back in the same spot), it’s time to see a doctor to find out what’s going on. Treatments vary, but often, simple remedies such as wrist braces or the guidance of a certified hand therapist can help.

“Pain is a defense mechanism. It’s telling you there’s something wrong,” Dr. Seitz says. “If it’s painful and not going away, get it checked out.”

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