Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a serious risk for those of us who earn our livings by working on computers all day. Overuse of the hands and wrists in repetitive movement puts pressure on the median nerve in the forearm. When that nerve becomes compressed, you can experience numbness and the “pins and needles” feeling in your hands. These are the early warning signs of the syndrome.
Prevention is the best solution with this disorder. If you already have symptoms of it, check with a doctor for help – wrist braces and other non-surgical options give many patients complete relief. But there’s a lot you can do to avoid it in the first place, no matter how much time you spend on a computer. Please note: this article is for people who don’t already have symptoms. While the tips contained within might bring relief to existing symptoms, they’re only designed to prevent the onset of symptoms on the first place. If you have symptoms, see a doctor*!
Prevention, worth a pound of cure
- One of the best things you can do is simply to take frequent breaks. Giving your hands a break lets your body start repairing the damage from the repetitive motion strain. If you find it hard to remember to do that, Work Rave is a free program which not only reminds you take breaks, but actually locks up your computer and forces the issue. (Yes, you can get out of a break if you really need to.)
- Use less force when making motions. Most of us click and type with far more force than is necessary. If you spend eight hours a day typing rapidly, experiment to see how lightly you can hit the keys and still do your typing. Using less force reduces the damage from repetitive motion.
- Make sure your workspace is ergonomic. Also: are you resting your forearm on the edge of a desk while mousing? That puts pressure directly on the median nerve.
The computer mouse is one of the worst culprits for this syndrome. The double-click is an especially unnatural movement. But you can use your mouse a lot less than you probably think.
- Try keyboard shortcuts, which allow you to use keyboard commands in place of mouse gestures. Look for keyword shortcuts in search engines as well as in your software help menus.
- You can also try mousing with your other hand – for most of us, that means the left hand. Some people find this more difficult than others, but if you can make the adjustment, alternating which hand you mouse with can help not only your hands and wrists, but your back. (Ever get a back pain at the middle of your spine? That can come from too much mousing.)
- There’s also mouse emulating software that lets you program your own keyboard shortcuts.
- Microsoft Office has its own collection of shortcuts. You may find other software you rely on heavily does, too.
- And you can also look for ergonomic mouses designed to prevent repetitive strain. Most employers will pay for them if you make it clear it’s a matter of workplace health.
At the end of the day, no matter how you improve your workstation and take breaks, you’re still going to find yourself sitting longer than the human body was designed to do. Simple little hand and wrist exercises can help!
- Hand stretch. Stretch your fingers out straight, to the point where your fingers are curving back slightly. Hold that position for five seconds, or whatever feels comfortable, then release and let all the tension completely out of your hand. Just let it droop for about as long as you stretched it. Repeat this cycle five or six times. This gets the blood circulating through your hands and wrists and helps you relax muscle tension that’s been building up while you worked.
- Wrist Stretch. Hold your arms straight out in front of you with your palms facing the floor. Now lift your hands up, as if motioning someone to stop. This simple exercise stretches the wrist and gets blood flowing through that vulnerable median nerve in the middle of your forearm.
- Shoulder Stretch. There are loads of good shoulder stretch exercises out there, and different body types seem to prefer different ones. Pick any you like, but my favorite is this: I lock my hands behind my neck and bring my elbows up level to them. I touch my elbows together, and that really stretches the tightness out. This encourages blood flow from the spine down to the arm, which may also help to prevent Carpal Tunnel.