People who spend a lot of time performing activities that require a high level of force or repetition, or use vibrating tools are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Other activities such as driving, playing musical instruments, knitting, using a sander, screw drivers, air wrenches, waitress work, or assembling small parts are also associated with increased CTS risk. The good news is that there are ways we can reduce the risk of developing CTS. Some of these include the following:
- Stay Healthy: There are many conditions that contribute to the onset and/or make CTS worse. Exercise, maintain a healthy weight (Body Mass Index – BMI – of 25 or less), stop smoking (or better yet, never start), take your thyroid medication (if indicated), keep your blood sugar normal (obesity leads to diabetes which often worsens CTS), and do your carpal tunnel exercises multiple times a day.
- Ergonomics: Use “ergonomic” principles when arranging your workstation such as sitting properly at your home and work computers. This includes the placement of your desk, the computer monitor, the keyboard (consider a convex keyboard rather than the flat type), the mouse (and type of mouse – the track ball mouse requires no arm movement, only the thumb), and where you place your paperwork if you need to refer to it often. The type of chair and its height are also very important. Avoid desks that have sharp edges as they can compress the forearms and pinch the CTS nerve.
- Posture: The position in which you sit is important! Sit in an upright position, head/chin tucked in, feet on the floor or on a box, elbows resting on adjustable arms of the chair bent about 90 degrees, and keep your wrists fairly straight/neutral. Avoid slouching, reaching out with the elbows less than 90 degrees, head shifted forwards and shoulders rounded and feet not positioned under you. When you talk on the phone, STRONGLY consider a headset! Pinching the phone between your shoulder and ear with your head bent sideways for any length of time is a ticket to disaster for developing CTS and/or other types of cumulative trauma disorders (pinched nerves in the neck, shoulder tendonitis/bursitis, elbow tendonitis, and more).
- Plan your activities: Pay careful attention to your daily routine for activities that may increase your risk of developing or perpetuating CTS. For example, these activities can increase your chance of developing or worsening CTS: playing a musical instrument, knitting, carpentry, playing video or computer games for hours, working on cars, operating vibrating tools, using forceful gripping such as spray bottles, and engaging in certain sports such as long-distance cycling that load the arm and hand, skiing – water skiing requires a firm grip on the handle, and snow skiing requires firm gripping on the ski pole.
- Sleep: It is impossible to control the position we put our hands/wrists in at night. Therefore, it is essential to wear wrist splints so we avoid bending the wrists in our sleep. Many of us curl up in a ball and tuck or bend the wrists and hands under our chin. In a “normal” wrist, the pressure inside the carpal tunnel DOUBLES when we bend our wrists! If we have CTS, the pressure can go up 6-8 times because of the increased pressure that’s there already because of the CTS. Use a pillow that is designed for you, your doctor of chiropractic can help you with that!
- Take a break! It’s important to pace yourself if your work or play includes fast, repetitive activities. It’s easy to get lost into what you’re doing so a timer to remind you that an hour has gone by and to take a break is a wise purchase. There are computer programs that flash messages on your screen like “Time to stretch!” Some of these may include the actual exercise so you don’t forget what to do. If not, talk to your chiropractor about what exercises are good to do either at the workstation and/or at home for CTS.