Cruel Hand Look
By Anna Sachse
You’ve been sitting at your computer for hours, alternately working on an important project and emailing old lovers who have found you on Facebook, when suddenly, a sharp, piercing pain shoots through your wrist and up your arm. The culprit? You’ve probably been carpal tunneled.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), an estimated three out of every 10,000 workers loses time from work because of carpal tunnel syndrome, and half of these workers are out for more than 10 days. But before you get all excited about using it as your excuse for calling in sick to your office job the next time Coachella rolls around, make sure you have your f’d up fingers facts straight.
What the Hell is It?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand and controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers, as well as impulses to other small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. When swelling narrows the tunnel and compresses the median nerve, the result may be painful burning, tingling, weakness or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm. At first you might be able to “shake out” the feeling, but if left untreated, you will start to have a harder time grasping small objects or performing other manual tasks, and, eventually, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away.
What the Hell Causes It?
Carpel tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve from swelling or anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller. According to the NINDS, the greatest risk factor associated with it is a congenital predisposition—the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in others. In fact, women are three times more likely to get it than men for precisely this reason. But other contributing factors include: illnesses such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes; fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause; obesity; smoking, because it can reduce blood flow to the median nerve; wrist injuries; and making the same hand or wrist movements over and over, especially if the hand is lower than the wrist. It is especially common in assembly line work, such as manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning and meat packing. There is actually no conclusive scientific evidence that repetitive computer use causes carpal tunnel.
But there is also no conclusive evidence that it doesn’t.
How the Hell do You Fix It?
See your doctor. Usually simple rest or immobilizing the wrist in a splint is enough for a complete recovery. But sometimes sufferers may need diuretics or steroids to reduce the painful swelling. If symptoms last more than six months, there’s a good chance you’ll end up having a very common surgery that involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve.
There are no proven strategies for prevention, but you can take a variety of precautions. First, reduce your force and relax your grip. For example, hit the keys softly when typing. Second, take frequent breaks, especially if you use equipment that vibrates or that requires you to exert a great amount of force. Periodically stretch and bend your wrists. Third, watch your form. Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. If you use a keyboard, keep it at elbow height or slightly lower. And, finally, keep your hands warm. You’re more likely to develop hand pain and stiffness in a cold environment. Wearing fingerless gloves can help—and look awesome.