Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is characterized by the swelling of the tendons in the wrist which then puts pressure on the median nerve. Symptoms normally start gradually and worsen over time. Recognizing the early signs is key to prevention and preventing permanent damage.
Computer use is linked to carpal tunnel because it involves the repetitive use of the hands and wrist. However, the actual truth about the relationship between them may shock some patients.
How Does Computer Use Lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The simple answer is: it doesn’t. While numerous studies have explored the effects of manual work on median nerve function, none has been able to reveal any positive causation between excessive computer use and carpal tunnel. So why is this association so common then? According to the research, improper hand/wrist positions can be a contributing factor, but it is not the only cause. Despite a correlation between computer work and CTS, other factors such as age, sex, body weight and preexisting conditions seem to play an important role in the development of the disease.
Oftentimes, people will misdiagnose themselves with carpal tunnel when it is more likely they have tendonitis. A clinical neurology study performed at the University of California revealed that 60% of patients did experience aches and pains related to computer use, but they did not have carpal tunnel syndrome.
While computer use is repetitive and can be a risk factor, research has shown that it is merely a correlation, not a direct causation as some other professions or hobbies may be.
Other Professions/Activities that May Contribute to CTS
Professions that are hard on the hands and wrist are also risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Those professions may include:
- Chef/ cook:
- The use of their hands all day and the grips they use for knives and other tools can put stress on the body. It is important to keep a looser grip and stretch the muscles to avoid carpal tunnel.
- Automotive work
- Mechanics often use repetitive motions in their hands, which is a precursor for carpal tunnel syndrome.
- While needlepoint can be relaxing, the awkward wrist movements and repetitive motions can be a precursor to developing carpal tunnel.
- Construction workers not only perform repetitive motions, but they use tools that have intense vibrations.
- Video games require repetitive motions and many gamers don’t realize the intensity that are hit buttons and move can increase the likelihood they develop carpal tunnel.
How Do You Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
All of the previously described professions as well as computer use have two major commonalities: Repetition and strain. While you are not guaranteed to develop carpal tunnel, these professions can be risk factors, just as any profession with similar requirements can be. So how can you prevent carpal tunnel if you are at risk? There are three keys to prevention:
- Even taking a 10 to 15 minute break from your daily tasks can go a long way in preventing carpal tunnel.
- Ease Your Grip
- Using too much force and gripping a tool too tightly can increase the strain on your wrist and cause inflammation. Be conscious of how you are holding tools and your grip on them.
- The hand and wrists have muscles too. And just like the rest of your body, they need to be stretched before and after they’re used.
How Do You Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Stretches, physical therapy, wrist splints, and cortisone injections can all be viable treatments for carpal tunnel. However, the only permanent solution is to have surgery. If your symptoms worsen or do not improve significantly with other treatment options, you may need to consult with a surgeon.
While computer use does not directly cause carpal tunnel, that is not to say you may not develop it, or other similar conditions, in your lifetime. The stereotype does hold some value but there are steps you can take to prevent damage to your nerves.
If you keep your wrist and hand in a neutral position, take breaks, stretch, and have proper posture, you can prevent yourself from developing carpal tunnel or another condition such as tendonitis. Make sure you take care of your body, you only get one!
If you find yourself having developed carpal tunnel syndrome and require surgery, Dr. Brutus is one of the leading orthopedic surgeons in Canada for the condition. Don’t wait to have yourself checked out, it may be too late to prevent significant damage!