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How Your Job Can Cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

By Brian Acton

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition affecting the hand and wrist. If you experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand, these could be symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. There are many potential causes, including obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and even pregnancy.

But your job can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if you frequently perform the same repetitive motions over and over again. Here’s how your job can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a passageway in your wrist surrounded by bones and ligaments. This tunnel contains nine tendons and allows the median nerve, which runs the length of your arm and controls the movement of your thumb and fingers (excluding your pinky), to pass through.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tunnel narrows or tissues swell and compress the median nerve. This pressure can lead to numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand. Untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome will gradually worsen over time.

Symptoms include numbness and “pins-and-needles” tingling in your hand, similar to the feeling when a foot or limb falls asleep. Over time, your hand may also experience pain and muscle cramping. Eventually, you may lose grip strength and experience weakness in your thumb and first two fingers, making it difficult to form a fist or grasp objects.

Treatments can vary based on the severity, and they may include wearing a splint, taking medication, or even undergoing surgery. You may also wear a wrist support to relieve symptoms or stabilize your wrist post-surgery.  

Is Your Job Causing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

There are many conditions - including diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy, and wrist fractures - that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. However, jobs with frequent repetitive motions can also cause or contribute to the condition.

Frequent use of a computer mouse and keyboard is commonly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. But several studies have been conducted on the issue, and there is little evidence to link computer use with wrist or hand problems.

Instead, occupations that involve “prolonged or repeated flexion and extension of the wrist” have a higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These are jobs that involve frequent, repetitive motions that put stress on the arm or wrist. Jobs that fit this description may include:

  • Assembly line worker
  • Cashier
  • Musician
  • Barber or hair stylist

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you frequently perform repetitive arm motions over and over, put stress on your wrist, or bend your wrist into awkward positions, you could be at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition can affect your health and your ability to perform your job effectively.

How to Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

You may not be able to completely avoid repetitive motions at work. But there are certain adjustments employers and employees can make to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Smart workplace design: employers that redesign workstations, tools, or job duties to minimize the stressful effect of repetitive motions may see reduced incidents of carpal tunnel syndrome. This could involve reducing repetition, avoiding awkward wrist positions, or designing adjustable work stations.
  • Deliberate wrist motions: try to keep your wrist straight and avoid bending it in unnatural ways. Avoid repeatedly flexing and extending your wrists and moving the wrist beyond its natural range of motion.
  • Exercises: certain stretching and strengthening exercises can help you build muscles in your arm and wrist.
  • Avoiding repetition: try to mix up your work routines by performing different tasks throughout the day, rather than performing the same task over and over.
  • Rest: make sure to take breaks and rest when possible.

 

Sources:
https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/carpal.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145125/
https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/carpal-tunnel-syndrome
https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/ss/slideshow-carpal-overview

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