You type at a computer all day long. Lately, you’ve noticed numbness and tingling creep up your thumb and your first two fingers into your forearm. It sometimes wakes you up at night.
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Could it be carpal tunnel syndrome?
The median nerve, which runs from your forearm down to your hand, passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. Swelling, inflammation or fracture can narrow this tunnel.
“The carpal arch (made of eight small bones) can fall and compress the ligament covering the nerve,” explains chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC. “This essentially sandwiches the nerve between bone and ligament, causing symptoms.”
Here are five things he wants you to know about this condition:
1. What seems like carpal tunnel syndrome may not be
A large percentage of people who think they have carpal tunnel syndrome actually have wrist tendinitis, he says. Symptoms in the hands and fingers are similar.
“This is good news. While the treatment for both conditions is almost identical, tendinitis of the wrist is easier to fix,” says Dr. Bang. “Surgery is required less often for tendinitis than for carpal tunnel syndrome.”
2. Computers alone are not to blame for repetitive task can stress your hands and fingers
“Carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendinitis are both on the rise in developed countries,” says Dr. Bang. “This is most likely due to repetitive stress and lack of variety in work duties and hobbies.”
Whether you work at a computer or on an assembly line, as a carpenter or as a hair stylist, repeating the same hand and wrist motions over and over again will lead to problems.
Health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and pregnancy are also associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
3. Your body craves variety
When you’re typing or knitting for hours, “don’t get stuck in the same posture,” cautions Dr. Bang. “Think outside the box. Create variety in your work tasks.”
Instead of typing for hours and hours, try a dictation device or a phone app that records your voice. Instead of retyping, copy and paste. Or take a break from the keyboard and write by hand.
Changing your posture throughout the day will benefit more than your wrists. Sitting for 12 hours straight also causes back pain, he says.
4. Consider ergonomic devices
If you type a lot at work, devices like these can help prevent problems:
- An ergonomic keyboard that follows the natural position of your arms as you type.
- A wrist rest that keeps your wrist in neutral posture.
- A desk and chair high enough to keep your elbows flexed at 90 degrees, and your shoulders lowered and relaxed. (If necessary, a foot rest can help get you to 90 degrees.)
- A vertical mouse that keeps your wrist in neutral posture.
“But even when you have the best keyboard in the world, your body still craves variety,” Dr. Bang points out.
5. Take breaks for stretching and massage
When your wrists are feeling stressed, try self-massage or stretching the muscles and ligaments. “Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds to allow for maximum effectiveness,” he notes.
Use massage balls or foam rollers to work out tight muscles in your hands and forearms, says Dr. Bang. Try simple stretches for your thumb, carpal tendon and extensor muscle, too.
Ice can also make sore wrists feel better.
When stretching and massage aren’t enough, wrist splinting, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid injections may help. When symptoms become severe, surgery can open the carpal tunnel and relieve pressure on the nerve.
The bottom line: If you give your body the variety it’s looking for, you’re less likely to develop musculoskeletal problems, says Dr. Bang.