How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Eric H. Williams MD
Specializing in reconstructive surgery and pain relief in the Greater Baltimore area.

Helping a patient overcome nerve pain is highly rewarding. The unfortunate reality of the situation, though, is that the patient had been in pain. Sometimes the pain was quite severe. At other times, symptoms presented for a long time before we were able to help. Fortunately, the risk of developing a painful condition—like carpal tunnel syndrome—can potentially be reduced by preventative measures.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is upper extremity injury develops when the median nerve is compressed within the carpal tunnel – a narrow, anatomical passageway formed by bones and ligaments on the palm side of the wrist. Some symptoms are frequent tingling and burning sensations, decreased grip strength, numbness, and muscle atrophy at the base of the thumb (in severe cases). Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to try and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.ergonomic keyboard use reduces carpal tunnel syndrome risk

Now, it should definitely be noted that it is difficult (if not outright impossible) to completely eliminate all injury risk. That being said, you can at least reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome by:

  • Managing diabetes. Diabetes is a primary cause of carpal tunnel syndrome (as it is for many other medical issues and complications). If you have this disease, you need to practice appropriate comprehensive health maintenance. This means managing your weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising on a regular basis (under guidance of a medical professional).
  • Managing your weight. Along with diabetes, obesity is another major source of this particular nerve injury. If basic weight loss/management practices like increasing physical activity and reducing caloric intake are not working, you might want to consult with your primary care physician to discuss options.
  • Relaxing your grip. If your work involves using a keyboard or cash register, hit the keys softly instead of really hammering them. In the event you are writing by hand for an extended period, opt for a pen that features free-flowing ink (takes less effort to move) and a soft, oversized area for gripping.
  • Taking frequent (appropriate) breaks. Throughout the day, take a little time on a frequent basis to stretch and bend your hands and wrists. If you are able, alternate tasks when possible, and especially if your job entails using equipment that vibrates or requires you to exert great amounts of force.
  • Changing positions periodically. One of the possible root causes of carpal tunnel syndrome is to have your wrist in a particular position for an extended period of time. A natural way to reduce the risk of injury is to move around periodically, especially to stretch the hands and wrists.
  • Improving your posture. The human body is connected in such a way that an issue in one area can lead to problems in another. This means an incorrect posture can roll your shoulders forward, shorten your neck and shoulder muscles, and then compress nerves in your neck. In turn, this can affect the wrists, hands, and fingers.
  • Watching your form. A relaxed, neutral position is best for your wrists, so avoid bending them all the way up or down. If you use a keyboard, keep it at elbow height (or slightly lower). You may need to check with your employer if you need assistance.
  • Changing your computer keyboard and mouse. If your computer’s keyboard or mouse strains your wrist or feels uncomfortable, switch out to a more ergonomic model.
  • Quitting smoking. Whereas there is not definitive evidence of this, it has been at least suggested that smoking may potentially contribute to this particular condition. Of course, no matter if it does or doesn’t, we still recommend you quit smoking (or using other forms of nicotine).

If you already have a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome, you may benefit from talking to your employer’s personnel manager or a human resources specialist. He or she can potentially offer ergonomic solutions to problems that can cause the condition, like handling vibrating equipment in construction or manufacturing jobs, or using an unergonomic keyboard or mouse.

Beyond help in the workplace, you should see your physician. Depending on the severity of your case, you might benefit from a splint that keeps your wrist in a neutral position. Your doctor may be willing to prescribe one of these devices for you.

In the event you have carpal tunnel symptoms that keep you up at night, you will likely need to see a more advanced specialist. Conservative treatment options include therapy, splinting, injections, anti-inflammatory medication, and sometimes even good, old-fashioned rest.

Hopefully those preventative tips will help you avoid this common source of joint pain altogether. In the event you already have a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, contact our office. We have helped other patients find relief, and may be able to do the same for you. Give us a call at (410) 709-3868 or connect with us online today.

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