You are an office person by day, and a gamer at night. You spend most of your time in front of the computer. You’ve been ignoring a tingling and numbing feeling you have had in your hand for months already. Then one day, a sharp and piercing pain snipes through your wrist and up your arm. More likely, you have carpal tunnel syndrome. What exactly is CTS, and how do you keep from getting it?
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
At the base of the hand, there lies a narrow, rigid passageway of small bones and tendons for a nerve responsible for sensations and impulses in some muscles in our hands that allow the fingers and thumb to move – the median nerve. When the median nerve gets compromised, either when it is pressed or compressed by swollen or irritated tendons, the result may be pain, swelling, tingling and loss of strength in the hand and wrist.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) has become more common in the United States and has been costly in terms of time lost from work and medical treatment. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, on the average, CTS has caused 23 missed working days, costing $2 billion a year, with 3.7 percent of their adult population suffering from CTS.
Here’s an awesome video courtesy of Dr. Levi Harrison:
What Causes CTS?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is classified as a cumulative trauma disorder. Cumulative trauma disorder is an ailment that attacks the body’s musculoskeletal system. Thus, repetitive hand motions or prolonged hand position may stress and irritate the tendons in the carpal tunnel and compress the median nerve and the blood supply that feeds the hand and wrists.
There are other risk factors that may cause CTS, such as primary medical conditions (e.g. arthritis and diabetes), congenital predisposition (smaller tunnel or bigger tunnel), obesity, trauma or injury in the wrist, mechanical problems in the wrist joints, work stress, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause, or tumor in the carpal tunnel or canal.
What are the signs and symptoms of CTS?
Persons with CTS may experience feelings of numbness, tingling, burning, and loss of strength in their fingers and hands. Symptoms start gradually and if left untreated may progress into acute, persistent pain. Extreme cases of CTS may entail loss of sensation and impaired hand functions (e.g. clumsiness in hands, weakness or inability to grip or pinch), forcing people with extreme CTS to undergo surgery and cease from working.
How is CTS treated?
Treatment for CTS include wearing CTS wrist splint, rest, CTS medication, physical therapy, and in extreme cases of CTS, surgery. Treating CTS is much easier early on. Do not hesitate to seek expert medical opinion when you experience any of the symptoms of CTS.
Ergonomics and CTS: How is CTS prevented?
Ergonomics is defined as “the study and control of the effects of stresses, motions, postures, and other physical forces on the human body engaged in work”. It is at the frontline in addressing health issues concerning cumulative trauma disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
In the workplace or at home, make sure that your work area and equipment are at the right height and distance for your hands and wrist to work with less strain. Use armrests if you are working on a computer for armrests allow your wrist to rest comfortably without having to bend at an angle. Sit straight comfortably.
Here are a few additional steps that can help prevent CTS:
- Stay warm. CTS prevalence is more likely in colder environment. Warmth is proven to lessen the likelihood for muscles to get hurt. Keep your hands warm by wearing fingerless gloves, if your task permits you do to so.
- Take short breaks often. Experts advice 10 to 15 minute breaks every hour is a good way to minimize the risks of CTS.
- Do different tasks. Repetitive movements without variation in routine could strain and put your muscles under serious stress. Try doing other tasks every so often, or take a break.
- Grip gently. There are instances when you do not have to grip too much. Avoid the habit of tensing the muscles without needing to. Stress and tension strain and irritate the muscles.
- Exercise. Flex and bend your wrist and hands in the opposite direction after working on repetitive hand movements. There are hand and wrist exercises that may improve your wrist and hand flexibility, ergo decreasing the incidence of putting too much strain or tension in your wrist and hand muscles.
For individuals whose work is mainly on computer, such as programmers, writers, and gamers, take extra precaution: Use armrests and flex more often. As an old saying goes: “Prevention is better than cure.” One cannot do so much about one’s congenital predisposition for it comes without asking. However, we can control how we perform using our body, how we handle tools, and adjust our work area to foster a friendlier work environment at home or in the workplace.