Let’s say you’ve applied for a job that requires frequent gripping and handling of products and you heard that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a problem at this particular manufacturing plant. You really need the job, but you are leery of the possibilities of developing CTS. Is there anything you can do to PREVENT it?
Though there are no “guarantees” that CTS won’t occur despite our best efforts at prevention, here are some practical approaches that can make a big difference:
- LIGHTEN IT UP: CTS risk increases as a result of three things: Force + Speed + No Rest. First, try using less force or lighten up on your grip whenever possible. Though it’s hard to change habits, try gripping tools less tightly (use higher quality tools if they reduce the need to squeeze hard), don’t “pound” the keys of your keyboard, don’t squeeze your computer mouse, kitchen utensils, etc. and don’t strangle your golf club, tennis racquet, garden tools, or steering wheel. Use lighter-weight tools/utensils at home or work.
- TAKE BREAKS: Take 30-60 second stretch breaks every 15 minutes to allow the soft tissues in the hands and wrists to recover.
- STRETCH 1: Place your palm on the wall/desk pointing your fingers downward and stretch your wrist as far back as possible (elbow straight) until you feel the “pull” in the forearm muscles. HOLD for five to ten seconds and repeat on the other side. STRETCH 2: Make a fist for three seconds, then straighten out the big knuckle joints of the fingers (make a “bear claw”), followed by opening the hands and fanning out the fingers as far as possible. Hold each position for five to ten seconds and repeat as time allows.
- KEEP THE WRISTS NEUTRAL: When possible (driving a car, sleeping, etc.), keep your wrists straight/avoid bending. Use a wrist splint at times to help remind you (especially at night).
- CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE: Instead of staying at a risky task until you’re done, switch to a task that doesn’t require extreme gripping and force and/or switch between the left and right hand.
- CHECK YOUR POSTURE: Keep the chin tucked in (retracted) and head back. Avoid forward head posture and sit up “tall.” At a desk, keep knees, hips, elbows at 90°, and arch the lower back—in other words, don’t slouch!
- AVOID COLD HANDS: Try to avoid letting your hands and fingers get cold. Wear gloves (if possible), have a small space heater nearby, or rub your hands together. Even fingerless gloves can help a lot.
- ROTATE BETWEEN TASKS: Discuss rotating between job tasks with co-workers and your boss to avoid the same repetitive movements during your shift. This can really help in assembly line work.
- SEEK HELP SOONER RATHER THAN LATER: Heed the early warning signs of CTS. Do NOT let CTS advance without seeing a chiropractor, as studies show that waiting too long reduces the success rate of treating CTS! Your doctor of chiropractic can teach you exercises, retrain your posture, suggest ergonomic (work) improvements, and treat your overused muscles and joints.