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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Work

Work-related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is typically thought to be the result of heavy computer use. While ergonomics still have a place in data entry jobs, typing is not the primary cause of this disorder. On the contrary, using a computer for 7 hours a day was found not to increase the risk of developing CTS. While computer use may lead to other repetitive stress injuries, computer use alone does not typically stress the body in a way that inflames the carpal tunnel. Jobs demanding assembly line work, however, very commonly result in CTS or CTS symptoms. This article will briefly look at what activities may cause this very common disorder.

The carpal tunnel is a space in your wrist created by bones and ligaments. Nerves, tendons, blood, and other tissues run through this space. Sprains, friction, repetitive overuse, fluid retention, forceful movements, and other abnormalities cause the soft tissues to swell. The swelling happens inside the tunnel, though, and not directly beneath the skin which can expand to make room. Rather, the swelling places pressure on everything inside the tunnel, causing tingling, numbness, weakness, stiffness, and several other signs and symptoms of CTS.

Highly repetitive wrist movements are the most common work tasks that may lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is a big reason people have connected it to computer use. However, the wrist isn’t moving while typing the way it does while grocery checking or performing work in the garment industry. There is not significant evidence to support the idea that awkward postures alone lead to CTS, either. Rather, highly repetitive wrist movements, particularly when combined with forceful hand/wrist exertion, vibration, or other job factors, are what most commonly lead to CTS. These movements are typically required in service, packaging, garment, and grocery industries.

Preventing CTS is important; treating it is both costly and invasive. This condition costs a lifetime average of $30,000. Carpal tunnel release is the most common surgical procedure in the U.S., yet CTS is highly preventable. People can minimize their risks of developing CTS both at home and on the job. The simplest step to preventing CTS is to monitor sleeping habits. The body can recover from daily stress while sleeping, but if the carpal tunnel needs repair, it cannot do so with flexed wrists. Make sure wrists are straight while sleeping. To ensure this, people can create a make-shift splint that may or may not be safe and effective, or purchase one for each affected wrist. They’re fairly inexpensive, and if a job places a lot of stress and repetition on the wrists, the splints may be useful during working hours, too. Completing stretching exercises each day will help, as will frequent breaks, rotating jobs amongst workers (when possible), and implementing other ergonomically-designed tools and workstations.

People have been doing repetitive wrist movements in their jobs long before anyone began connecting the movements with this common dysfunction. CTS is a painful, uncomfortable, and frustrating condition that, without proper treatment or care, can result in surgery. Discontinuing work would remove the risk completely, but it isn’t necessary to leave a job to prevent this kind of injury. Consult an ergonomic or CTS expert for further advice on how to prevent developing work-related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

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