You don’t want to complain, but lately you have felt a little tingling or numbness in your hand and wrist. Sometimes, the pain is sharp. Other times it seems to travel from your wrist up through your arm. You try to shake it off but it just won’t go away.|
Is it just a cramp? A muscle spasm? More than likely, you could be experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition seen annually by physicians more than two million times. It strikes three times as many women as it does men and it accounts for 10-20% of all repetitive strain injuries.
What is it?
Your median nerve, which controls sensations for the palm side of your thumb and fingers (except the pinkie) runs from your wrist to your forearm. It is encapsulated within the carpal tunnel, which is comprised of small bones. (Carpal comes from carpus, the Latin word for wrist.) Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when this nerve becomes impinged, pressed, or squeezed within this bony tunnel. This can cause various symptoms including numbness, pain, tingling or a "funny feeling" in the fingers, hand, and/or wrist. Other classic symptoms include:
You may think that carpal tunnel syndrome occurs only in people who work at a computer all day, but carpal tunnel syndrome is typically caused by a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve—not just excessive computer use. Some people have a genetic predisposition caused by an unusually small carpal tunnel. In some cases, doctors are unable to identify a cause of the symptoms. Additional factors that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
More than one quarter of a million carpal tunnel surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. and 47% of those cases are work-related. To prevent this condition in the workplace, workers should perform stretching exercises (see at the end of the article), take frequent rest breaks, wear splints to keep the wrists in a straight position, and use correct posture and wrist position when using a keyboard. There are many products created for office workers that are designed to make the workstation more ergonomic. Tools such as specially designed computer mouse and keyboards place the hand and wrist in a more ergonomic position to keep the wrists straight instead of bent or cocked. These tools may look a little funny and might even cost a bit more but are definitely worth the investment if you spend a large portion of the day on the computer. In many cases, your workplace will purchase them for you if you simply ask!