Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a debilitating condition. It causes pain and limits both range of motion and strength in the hands, wrists, fingers, and forearms.
The condition is largely related to work in which repetitive hand motions are the norm. Some occupations may increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Those who type or use hand tools in a repetitive way may be at a higher risk.
While it has been extensively studied, the true prevalence of CTS is not known. It is estimated that between 3.1% and 7.8% of America’s working population suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s according to a study completed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
So how do you prevent carpal tunnel syndrome? Here are a few ways that you may lower your risk.
Understand all the risk factors
As mentioned, carpal tunnel syndrome is primarily associated with repetitive hand and arm motions at work. But hobbies or sports can contribute to CTS as well. Even long times spent driving can lead to the development of carpal tunnel.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes points out that other conditions can contribute to CTS. If you’ve had a sprain or fracture, you may have increased risk. Same goes for pituitary and thyroid gland issues. Those who suffer from diabetes or other metabolic disorders are also at higher risk.
Visit an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists focus on restoring your ability to work and do the hobbies that you love. An OT will give you a treatment plan that includes stretching exercises. You can incorporate these exercises into your daily routing. Strengthening your hands and wrists will give you less pain and more flexibility.
Whatever it is you’re doing, whether at work or as a hobby, take breaks from the activity. Ideally, you should take a break every hour for around 10 to 15 minutes. This provides time for your muscles and tendons to relax. And it alleviates pressure on the median nerve (the root cause of carpal tunnel syndrome).
Be Less Forceful
A good, strong grip is sometimes considered a positive thing. But it can actually hurt you and make it more likely that you’ll develop carpal tunnel. Try using less force when typing, or gripping and grasping tools. Use your hands less forcefully, and you’ll help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Be Less Tense
As you go through your day, be sensitive to the amount of pressure you’re putting on your fingers, hands, and wrists. You may be putting stress on your body without even knowing it. This is especially true if you have a lot of stress. Make an effort to relax and use less pressure to alleviate tension.
Exercise and Stretch Your Hands
While taking a 10 or 15 minute break, try stretching and exercising your hands. There are several different hand stretches/exercises you can do, including:
Make a fist with each hand.
Straighten your fingers completely.
Repeat up to 10 times.
Make a first.
Stretch your fingers and fan them out.
Stretch your fingers as far as you can (out and apart).
Repeat up to 10 times.
Hold your hand straight up, fingers out, then make a fist.
Hook your fingers, then straighten them.
Fold your fingers into a fist, then straighten them.
Slide your fingers down so they are straight against your palm, then straighten them.
Repeat up to 10 times
Hold your arm out in front of you.
Make a fist.
Turn your fist clockwise five times.
Turn your first counterclockwise five times.
Repeat with your other wrist.
Keep Your Wrists Neutral
Another important way to prevent carpal tunnel is to keep your wrists neutral (not bent too far up or down). This is particularly important when typing, and a wrist rest can help with that. However, it’s also important when driving, and when using many tools.
Use Your Other Hand
Most of us use our dominant hand for almost all the tasks we need to do. While that feels natural, it can increase your risk of developing CTS in that hand. To help avoid that possibility, change things up. Switch to your non-dominant hand. Alternate back and forth between hands to prevent tension and strain.
Stretch Your Wrist
Extend one arm in front of you. Keep your fingers together and the palm up. With the other hand, gently bend the fingers and wrist down. Hold that for 10 seconds and repeat it on your other wrist. Do this five times each.
Change Your Keyboard
In addition to buying a wrist rest, you might consider investing in an ergonomic keyboard. if you spend a lot of time typing. A split, V-shaped keyboard is the most common. But there are other styles out there, including split vertical keyboards. These allow you to type with your hands facing one another, rather than palm down.
We all lean from time to time. We lean when we bend down to look at something, or chat with a coworker while on break. Avoid leaning on the heel(s) of your hand(s). This puts immense strain on your wrists.
Be mindful of your body
Be mindful of the stress and strain you place on it. Take breaks frequently, stretch and, above all, practice good body mechanics. There is no guarantee that you will not develop carpal tunnel syndrome. But taking a proactive approach can reduce the chance that you will.
Also, the tips and stretches presented above work well for treating the pain if you have already developed CTS.
Struggling with preventing carpal tunnel syndrome? We can help.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common conditions that we treat at Motus. Our physical and occupational therapists can help reduce your pain. We can get you back to doing the things that you love. Contact Motus Rehabilitation today to learn more about healing from carpal tunnel syndrome.