If you’ve ever suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)—the throbbing wrist pain, the numbness and tingling, the muscular weakness in the hand, perhaps even a burning sensation traveling up the arm—chances are it’s something you’ll never forget. And if you work in a role that requires a significant amount of typing and computer work, the effects of carpal tunnel can impair your ability to do your job. In addition to the pain and discomfort, you may also notice that you frequently drop items or have trouble with coordination and fine motor skills as an effect of CTS.
What Exactly is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The tunnel itself is actually formed by the bones and ligaments in your hand, explains Dr. Eugene Charles, author of Journey to Healing. The median nerve travels from your neck through this tunnel to reach your thumb. CTS occurs when there is a compression of the median nerve, usually due to a displacement of one of the carpal bones in the hand.
Dr. Chris Dietz, area medical director of MedExpress Urgent Care, points out that poor office ergonomics or work that requires a lot of pressure to be put on the wrist can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel over time.
But there are also many other CTS triggers: According to licensed medical acupuncturist Jamie Bacharach, individuals who are diabetic, pregnant or have experienced a wrist injury are also more likely to develop the condition due to the effect these factors can have on the median nerve. CTS can also result from a fracture, other trauma, arthritis or autoimmune disorders.
Tips for Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
We’ve covered some stretching exercises and other tips for alleviating carpal tunnel symptoms, but ideally, you should take precautions to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
- Gently stretch your wrists. Flexing and stretching your wrists once or twice a day will go a long way toward preventing carpal tunnel syndrome in the long run, says Bacharach. “This practice is particularly important when you are performing an activity that strains or engages the wrists,” she notes.
- Practice proper office ergonomics. If you work in an office setting, Dietz stresses the importance of proper workstation setup. “Your keyboard should be within easy reach, and your chair should be positioned so your wrists are straight when you type or use your mouse,” he says.
- Be aware of your posture. Dr. Alejandro Badia of OrthoNOW points out that hunching over puts a strain on the arms, wrists and hands. Practice proper posture while walking or sitting, and avoid bending the wrist too high or too low.
- Keep your hands warm. Cold hands can exacerbate pain and stiffness. Keep a pair of fingerless gloves at your desk, and/or ask if you can bring in a small space heater for periodic warm-ups.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is yet another reason to avoid the habit.
- Avoid repeated wrist abuse. Even outside the office, be on the lookout for activities that may put a strain on your wrists throughout the day. Keep your grip loose and relaxed as much as possible, and stretch out your wrist after it has been put to use, suggests Bacharach.
- Adhere to a healthy lifestyle. If underlying health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure are causing carpal tunnel symptoms it’s more important than ever to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, says Dietz.
If you are experiencing pain in your arm, wrist, or hand—especially if you notice that the pain increases while doing activities like writing, housework, working with power tools or typing—Dr. Dietz says it’s important to see your doctor. “A healthcare professional can help determine the cause by performing certain tests to help rule out other issues, like arthritis, that can cause similar symptoms,” he says.