Having worked in the Financial District in Toronto as a Personal Trainer, I would say about 80% of my clients were starting to suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
Many of them were as young as 26 years old. CTS, also known as “mouse syndrome” can affect anyone, no matter what your profession! If you want to make sure you still have full mobility in your joints, read on to find out how to fix or avoid carpal tunnel!
What is it?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome sounds scary, but it’s pretty common. Unfortunately, ergonomic disorders are the fastest-growing category of work-related illness according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for 56% of illnesses!
Affecting your hand and wrist, carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve (which runs from the forearm to your palm) becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The carpal tunnel is actually just a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand. It houses the median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers. The meridian nerve is one of the major nerves of the hand, so although this syndrome is invisible, it’s pretty excruciating.
Early diagnosis and treatment are important, as carpal tunnel can and likely will get worse over time if your habits don’t change.
What are the symptoms?
Carpal tunnel causes pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand and arm. It seems to be more common in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Often, the symptoms appear at night, either in one or both hands, but it’s more common in your dominant hand. Think of all the things you do with your dominant hand that your other hand doesn’t get to practice.
Waking up, you may experience his tingling or numb sensation, so you may just shake it out and notice you get feeling back in your hands. It seems pretty innocent, but this is usually how it starts. You may then experience tingling during the day while doing menial tasks like talking on the phone, reading a book, or playing Candy Crush on your phone (do people still play this game?!).
Some of the worst cases of carpal tunnel tend to look like:
- the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away (muscles can atrophy if they aren’t being used!)
- not being able to feel hot or cold (which can be extremely dangerous, especially outdoors.)
- surgery to fix CTS that is irreversible (Carpal Tunnel surgery is the second most common type of surgery, with well over 230,000 procedures performed annually, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).)
Carpal Tunnel Risk Factors
I didn’t think that CTS could discriminate, but it definitely does affect some more than others!
Some risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Women – 2x as likely to develop CTS as opposed to their male counterparts.
- Age – the older you are, the higher the likelihood you’ll develop CTS.
- Heredity – some people just have smaller carpal tunnels than others, which means there is less room for the nerve to run through.
- Health conditions – gout, diabetes, tumors, arthritis, pregnancy, the use of contraceptives, menopause, and more. These tend to exacerbate CTS due to swelling or due to an increase in the volume of the contents of the carpal tunnel.
- Repetitive hand use – technically this is worse if your wrist is constantly in a flexed or extended position. However, your wrist could be neutral while using a mouse or keyboard… Imagine this: If you type 40 words a minute, you press 12,000 keys per hour or 96,000 keys per 8-hour day. If that isn’t repetitive strain, I don’t know what is! More on that below.
- Some occupations associated with CTS that would surprise you are: milking cows, knitting, assembling small parts, using a screwdriver, or using the laser scanner at checkout (think Costco!).
- Not only can repetitive hand motions lead to CTS, but so can awkward hand positions, strong gripping, mechanical stress on the palm, and any kind of vibrations (like a jackhammer).
How do I fix or avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
It looks like I fall into all of these categories… am I bound to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Not necessarily, but you do need to be proactive!
If you’re concerned you may have CTS, a physician will conduct some tests on you in order to diagnose. They could perform the Tinel’s test (tapping of the median nerve at the wrist for a tingling response), Phalen’s test (putting backs of your hands together and bending the wrists for one minute looking for tingling of the fingers, which indicated damage to the median nerve), or an Electromyography test (electrodes placed on the forearm and electrical current are passed through to test how quickly the median nerve transmits messages to the muscles).
Once they’ve concluded you do in fact have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, here is how it can be treated:
- Most mild cases will recommend rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, and/or a splint. Avoid activities that caused or aggravated the injury. You’ll want to wear the splint if you cannot avoid aggravating activities as well as when you are sleeping.
- The most important thing to do when treating your CTS is to exercise! These exercises will likely be given to you by a physical or occupational therapist and will help to strengthen the weak wrist. This is very often why many people get injured in the first place. Moving your wrist in ways it is not used to is a great way to strengthen in all ranges possible, rather than simply overuse the wrist in the same position. Doing the latter will lead to damage or injury in the long run!
For those of us who simply want to prevent injury and stay strong and mobile, here is a great video to watch and follow. I personally do this almost every day to support my yoga practice and because I know I’m home all day typing and using my wireless mouse (both of which are not ergonomically friendly!). Notice how many times Tykato changes the position of his wrists in his stretches! Did you know your wrist could go in those positions? Have you ever tried? Give it a go!
I won’t be able to go through all the ways you could make your workspace more efficient as it’s simply not possible here. Depending on what you do, you will have to find a way to make your workspace more ergonomic for YOU. If you sit at a desk all day with your mouse and keyboard, consider getting a mouse that can help you reduce mild wrist pain or musculoskeletal disorders that can cause things like tendinitis in your thumb. You can even consider a keyboard that is split in two! It makes sense since our arms are out at our sides most of the time. Your desk and chair height will make a difference as well, so there is a lot that goes into a healthy working posture.
Although Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is common, it doesn’t mean we want to allow this to go on longer than it has to. If you are at the point where you need surgery, consider what you may do after the procedure, since you may still have some issues with that wrist afterward. Make sure you have a plan going forward so that you can heal as much as possible and get your wrist(s) working like new.
Have you been suffering from mild or severe wrist pain but just avoiding using or putting pressure on it? This is extremely common. Most of the time, if you are experiencing pain, it’s important to strengthen rather than neglect the muscle. There are lots of muscles that connect to the wrist, and if you want to keep using your hands, consider strengthening the joints above, like the wrist, elbow, and shoulders!
If you need solutions for your workspace, there are many resources out there. If you have any questions about how to fix your workspace at home or at the office, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you!
Keep those wrists working and they’ll keep working for you! 🙂
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as hiking, photography, listening to podcasts, or playing video games. She is constantly working toward finding natural solutions to live a balanced lifestyle, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.