The carpal tunnel
is a very crowded, narrow passageway on the inside of your wrist, filled with nerves, tendons,
and blood vessels. When you engage in quick, repetitive actions with your hands and wrists hour after hour, day after day, you can irritate and traumatize
that narrow area. Inflammation and swelling might result, producing tingling, numbness, and pain in the hand. When that happens, you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Imagine a water hose with a kink in it. Even when you turn the water on full force, the flow coming out of the nozzle will not be full strength. This resembles what happens with CTS. When the median nerve
in the carpal tunnel is squeezed, the result can be pain, numbness, some weakness, and eventually the inability to properly use the hand. The index finger, the middle finger, and thumb are most severely affected. If you've ever fallen asleep on your arm or hand, the sensation of 'pins and needles' that you experience upon waking is similar to what people with CTS experience. To test for CTS, doctors tap a patient's wrist area. If the patient feels a tingling in the fingertips, it could indicate CTS. Although medical experts have known about this problem for over a hundred years, recent changes in the workplace have made CTS more common. People who work as typists, grocery checkers, and postal workers are among those most at risk for acquiring it. For people who already have CTS, medical treatment includes splinting the wrist, medication, and sometimes surgery. But something can be done to reduce the chances of acquiring CTS. Medical personnel suggest that workers keep their wrists in a neutral position, cut down on repetitive wrist motions or take frequent breaks from them, and practice various exercises. Experts estimate that by the year 2000, repetitive motion injuries (including CTS) will make up half of all occupational-related illnesses. Some people are studying work environments and trying to make them more comfortable and physically less stressful. They might suggest wrist rests for people who type a lot, anti-glare filters on computer terminals, and chairs with firm back support. This new area of study is called ergonomics
, and it is a growing field. As schools, homes, and workplaces become more computerized, more people may develop CTS. Everyone needs to be aware of this problem, since prevention is so important.
Learn how to alter a work space to lower the risk of acquiring carpal tunnel syndrome. Take this activity one step further by working on the ergonomics of the entire workplace. Materials
- foam (firm but pliable)
- covering of your choice
- light fixture
- cardboard to create a nonglare computer screen
- Choose a workplace with a computer. It could be the computer area in your classroom or the school library.
- Use the area and talk to other students who have used it for long periods of time. Find out what they think is uncomfortable about it. List these things.
- First deal with the computer keyboard. Decide if the user’s wrists are straight or at an uncomfortable angle when typing. If the wrists are bent, make a wrist rest to raise the hands to a more natural level. Do this by measuring the distance between the user’s wrists and whatever they might comfortably rest on. Cut your piece of foam to this height. Place it on the rest area. Try it out. You may need to make adjustments. Now cover the wrist rest with a nonirritating covering material.
- Check out the chair and the lighting in this area. Make necessary adjustments to improve them.
- Check the position of the computer monitor. Try raising or lowering it or tilting it. What position is most comfortable?
- Decide if too much glare shows on the computer screen. If so, use cardboard to cut down the glare. You may also reduce glare by simply repositioning the screen. Questions
You can take some simple and effective steps to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome when you work in an office. But what if you are a musician or a beautician? What could you do to prevent CTS if you worked in these professions?