Office Job Hazards: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In previous articles in the “Office Job Hazards” series we looked at the hazards of prolonged sitting and close-up reading.  In this article we’ll look at the hazard presented by typing and using a mouse all day long — carpal tunnel syndrome.

I never would have thought that performing an activity as benign as typing or applying a small amount of pressure to a mouse could cause immobilizing pain and numbness. Then I personally experienced the consequences of stressing my carpal tunnels, and I was shocked.  After two years of using a laptop during grad school, with no peripheral keyboard or mouse, I started having pain and numbness in the tips of my index fingers and thumbs.  Shortly after the initial symptoms, I started weight-lifting, which seemed to exacerbate the problem at first.  I then frantically researched ways to reverse the problem.   After applying what I learned, I’m happy to say that I no longer have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here are a few strategies, based on my own experiences and some of the latest medical research, that I hope will help you prevent or alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:

Stretching: While there are likely several likely causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, there is growing evidence that at least one of the causes is repetitive motion, and clicking a mouse or using a keyboard throughout the day definitely qualifies.  Research indicates that activities like clicking a mouse can cause the transverse carpal ligament to grow, which then cinches down on the median nerve in the wrist, causing pain and numbness.  The good news is that regular stretching can help prevent and (in my case) reverse the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  While working on the computer throughout the day, try periodically performing the following stretches:

  • Prayer stretch – place your palms together in the “prayer position,” up against your chest.  Then, lower your hands towards your stomach, keeping your palms together, until you feel a gentle stretch.  Hold for 6 seconds.
  • Backhand stretch – place the back of your hands together and up against your chest.  Then, raise your hands toward you chin, keeping the back of your hands touching, until you feel a gentle stretch.  Hold for 6 seconds.

Exercise: Since one of the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive movement, it’s important to vary your movements with exercise.  There’s also evidence to suggest that exercise can promote the body’s ability to heal damaged nerves.  If you have severe carpal tunnel symptoms, you’ll likely have to modify the exercises you do (for example, I started doing push-ups on my fists or with perfect push-ups, until my symptoms were alleviated), but don’t let that stop you from moving.  Your health depends on it!

Get enough B-vitamins: B-vitamins, especially vitamins B-12 and B-6, are crucial for nerve health.

Reduce Inflammation: The body’s inflammatory response to excess stress on the carpal tunnel can make carpal tunnel syndrome even worse.  Be sure to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, low in refined sugar and omega-6 fatty acids, and high in omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, and fruit! 

Use the right equipment: I’ve found that this has been an essential part of reducing the strain and impact of working on a computer all day.  The amount of pressure required to click the mouse is directly related to the amount of pressure put on the transverse carpal ligament.  Pressure placed on the wrist through being constantly bent backwards can also cause excess strain.  Here’s the equipment you’ll need:

  • A mouse that allows you to place your hand in a sideways position (with a less bent wrist) and one that is easy to click.  
  • A keyboard that is angled to prevent excess wrist flex.

Recommended products:
Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse by Microsoft (Amazon.com)
Leap Motion – I’m really looking forward to this one! Leap Motion will allow users to control the mouse cursor with the motions of their hands in the air (without touching anything)!  This will drastically reduce repetitive movement and strain on the wrist!

References: Transverse Carpal Tunnel Ligaments and Thenar Muscles, Mechanical Strain, B12 and Peripheral Nerve Damage, Omega-3 and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Originally posted 2013-02-28 03:10:00.

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