How to Stop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Before it Starts

This is the second of two posts this month on exploring the anatomy of the Upper Limb, and, more generally, the great resource known as Massive Open Online Courses.

As I made my way through the Upper Limb course on edX, I discovered a topic of conversation that is likely relevant to pretty much anyone that’ll ever read this. So, it seems like a good use of my time and yours.

While learning about the general anatomy of the upper limb, I first discovered why the course was called the “upper limb” in the first place. Why can’t we just say we’re learning about the arm? Because, of course, that would be improper.

The arm only runs from the shoulder to the elbow, where the humerus (bone) lies. Then, as the humerus splits into the radius and ulna, the forearm is the segment from the elbow to the wrist. Oh, and here’s my favorite fact of all. Your wrist is not where you think it is.

Yeah, that red circle above on your “palm” is where your wrist resides. And within it are eight small bones. And running through those eight small bones is the medial nerve. And this is where we start learning things more relevant to our daily lives.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Out of all the nerves and arteries that run down to the hand, the medial nerve is the only one that decided to take a shortcut and run straight through the wrist.

Of course, it couldn’t predict the trap it was running into and the little tunnel it would make infamous in doctor offices around the country. Oh, not to mention, it’s placement is the reason we have any feeling in our first four digits (all but the pinky), so I guess it knew where it was going.

Image Source: http://corewalking.com/wrist-carpal-tunnel/

Image Source: http://corewalking.com/wrist-carpal-tunnel/

It’s ironic writing about this topic because typing on a keyboard is one of the most common causes of it. If your eyes happened to miss all the blatant signs of today's topic, we’re talking about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Yes, that painful, nagging annoyance the Mayo Clinic plainly states “there are no proven strategies to prevent.” Of course, they try to do the whole “but there’s good news!” follow-up by saying there’s ways to minimize its effects. They have to keep you on the site somehow.

In all seriousness though, I guess we should happily oblige by their rules of governance, since they kindly passed on suggesting we should all get rid of our computers. So, what can we do to “minimize” this slow onslaught of pain?

Why is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Painful?

Let’s first develop an understanding of why this pain occurs in the first place. Remember that convenient nerve running through your wrist?

As you make those itty bitty movements with your fingers all day, typing away at your keyboard, you are putting your median nerve in a high stress environment. Over time, as the wrist and nerve are compressed, you’ll begin experiencing tingling sensations, numbness, and a weakening grip.

If you decide to go the macho route, or have an unhealthy fear of your boss, and try to “push through the pain,” you could be looking at permanent nerve damage, disability, and loss of hand function.

I’m sure you don’t want that to happen, and I’d be willing to bet you don’t really care for those other symptoms either. So, once again, what can we do about this?

How to Minimize Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One thing most people are pretty good at is having horrible posture. As such, this is a great place to start.

Have you ever thought about how you type on a keyboard? The position of your hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders? Neither have I.

I’m too busy trying to break the land speed record as I furiously type that not so important email. For the record, I’m actually probably one of the slowest typists who was born in the 1990s. Not to brag or anything (about being born in the 90s, not the typing).

Now, what is the “proper” way to type? No, Mavis Beacon, this isn’t about you. This is about ergonomics.

The more specific question is how should we set up our work stations (at home and in the office) to keep those wrists happy? I’m certainly no expert on the topic, so here is what the folks at verywell.com have to say:

  1. Don’t Contort—anytime you need to do a key combination that involves holding down one key and pressing another, use both hands.
  2. Keep Wrists Neutral—your wrists should not be bent outward toward your pinky nor inward toward your thumb.
  3. Don’t Rest Your Wrists—your hands should float above the keyboard, allowing your fingers to find the right keys by moving your whole arm.
  4. Keyboard Placement—place your keyboard below your elbows
  5. Monitor Placement—place your monitor at eye level and an arm’s length away
  6. Support your back—more on this here
  7. Check Your Feet—Place your feet squarely on the floor
  8. Rest—Turn your hands (knuckles on the table) over when pausing at the keyboard

After doing a quick self assessment, I do absolutely none of these things. As a writer at my day job and in my free time, I’m accepting this as a challenge, Barney Stinson style. However, I’m not going to write about it because that would be quite boring and far too ironic. Instead, I want you to imagine my perfectly ergonomic self when you read my next post.

How Did We Get Here?

This month was the perfect example of what I find so enjoyable about taking on monthly challenges of all shapes and sizes. I went from thinking I’d dig into mobility in the joints to making an even more relevant discovery to my day to day life.

Now, every time I sit down at my computer, I’ll have this golden nugget of information floating in my head, and I can mindfully make adjustments as my bad habits return. I hope you found this information useful as well.

I would love to know if you have any experience making these ergonomic adjustments in your daily life. And, if you have any medical knowledge and would like to add to my limited understanding, the community would greatly appreciate it! Until next time, folks.


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