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Laptop & Computer Safety: Avoiding Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel affects the series of tendons in the wrist. Some people may be able to observe these tendons by looking at the underside of their wrist while bending their hand backward. These, like all tendons, connect muscle to bone, making it easy to bend fingers and the thumb. If this area is swollen, the median nerve gets pinched and the wrist becomes numb. Studies have found that between ten and thirteen percent of computer professionals develop carpal tunnel as a result of their hand position while they work. Fortunately, there are several ways an individual can work to prevent carpal tunnel affliction.

Nutritional Therapy

Doctors advise against smoking and caffeine intake because both reduce blood flow to the hands. So then what should be consumed? While specifics are still being researched, it has been determined that Vitamin B6 has a place in carpal tunnel treatment. Vitamin B6 has a pain-relieving effect. However, overuse can result in damage to the central nervous system and neuropathy. Aside from diet, it is also suggested that aerobic exercise such as swimming or walking can help build a resistance.

Life Extention Foundation’s page on carpal tunnel

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the study of workplace design and how it can be used to decrease human fatigue and discomfort. It can be used in carpal tunnel syndrome prevention. A desk or table used at work should be twenty-seven to twenty-nine inches off the floor and when using a keyboard, elbows should be able to comfortably make a ninety degree angle. In order to make sure these specifications are possible, the chair should have an adjustable height and backrest. Arm rests are also recommended.

Simpler ergonomics are helpful as well. Try to use a mouse that keeps the hand flat and try to move it gently without gripping it too tightly. Some mouse pads and keyboards feature a wrist rest. While these feel interesting and are titled with the comforting term “rest,” they are actually more harmful than they are helpful. Wrist rests actually double the pressure within the carpal tunnel.

“ 10 Tips for Using a Computer Mouse” by Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell

“ Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrom” article from Michigan State University

“ Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” article by Earth Times

Taking Breaks

It is difficult to avoid keyboard and mouse use at a job requiring a computer, especially if the employee expects to keep their job. However, it is in the best interest of both parties if the employee does not suffer from carpal tunnel as it will hinder productivity. Taking a break from computer use can help break the muscular monotony and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Harvard recommends a one or two minute break for each ten to fifteen minutes of typing.  The Office of Women’s Health suggests ten or fifteen minutes for every hour.

The Office of Women’s Health

Harvard RSI Action

Good Posture

Ergonomics are useless if an individual doesn’t take proper advantage of them. As nice it is to slouch, a worker should sit with their spine against the back of the chair and with their shoulders relaxed. Foot placement is also more important than one might think. Feet should be touching the floor firmly. A person’s computer monitor should be at the same level as their head so they do not have to stretch their neck. Some Yoga stretches and exercises can help to improve posture both in the back and the arms.

University of Maryland on carpal tunnel prevention

Yoga for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Musculoskeletal disorders related to the workplace

Stretches/Exercises

Exercising the hand and fingers not only breaks the monotony of repetitive muscular movements but it also helps prevent stiffness and feels pretty good. Dr. Housang Seradge from the University of Oklahoma Orthopedic & Re-constructive Research Foundation has developed some easy and effective exercises. Parlay International has done so as well. There is also a routine known as nerve-gliding that is relatively popular.

Diagrams of “Copy Machine Stretches” (PDF)

Hand Exercises

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Exercises

Basic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Exercises

Treatments

Preventing carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t always effective. If someone is to get it, there are plenty of ways to treat it. In addition to the aforementioned Vitamin B6, anti-inflammatory drugs can ease pain. Physical therapy and yoga can help return strength to the wrist and hands. Acupuncture and chiropractic practices can sometimes yield results as well.

If the symptoms last through excessive periods of time (six months or longer) one should consider surgery. One of the most common surgical practices in the U.S. is for carpal tunnel syndrome. The general procedure involves an incision on the wrist. The surgeon cuts the tissue that is causing pressure to the nerves. The patient then wears a wrist splint for a two week period. Wrist splints are also a good idea for carpal tunnel treatment even if no surgery occurs. Open surgery that requires a large incision in the palm is necessary is certain situations 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet from the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke

Information on carpal tunnel from CNN. Includes treatments and drugs.

Find a hand surgeon

Oregon Health and Science University on carpal tunnel

Other Links

KidsHealth

Carpal tunnel and computer professionals

Carpal tunnel and gardening