Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at the Keyboard
Many more people use computers than they did just ten years ago. A bi-product of this computer revolution has been an increased occurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS. Continued, repetitive movements such as using a keyboard can damage the tendons that run from the hands to the forearms. If not dealt with properly, this damage progresses and causes extensive pain and limited hand use.
Within the hand and wrist there is a collection of bones, tendons and nerves. This area is tunnel-shaped and not very roomy. If you flex your hand over and over again, as you do when you type, you cause these tendons in your wrists to rub against each other, leading to irritation. The irritation results in swelling, and those swollen tendons then press against what is called the median nerve, causing tingling, numbness and eventually significant pain.
Causes of CTS
Several factors can lead to CTS:
* Genetics - The smaller amount of natural lubrication you have in those tendons, the greater you are at risk.
* Health/Lifestyle - Individuals with conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal changes (pregnancy or menopause), a high stress lifestyle, or alcoholism are prone to CTS.
* Repetitive Motion - Repeated hand and finger flexing causes irritation.
* Trauma - Damage to hands or wrists can cause swelling of the tendons.
While you can't change your genetics, there are several ways to prevent CTS. By monitoring your body positions and what activities you are doing with your hands, you can function somewhat normally if CTS is already present. But most importantly, you need to learn what proper ergonomics (work place design) and work habits can do to live free of CTS:
* Chairs - Wheeled, adjustable height chairs with armrests are ideal.
* Tables - Choose a table or desk height that allows your arm to sit at a 90-degree angle to your body. 27 to 29 inches above the floor is recommended.
* Wrist angle - Adjust your keyboard height, or use wrist rest, so wrists are aligned with forearms while working. Consider changing your style of keyboard, using a track ball or a different mouse if you cannot achieve this position otherwise.
* Elbow angle - Raise your seat height if your arm angle is less than 90 degrees. Lower it if it is more than 90 degrees.
* Waist angle - Your waist should be 90 degrees to your legs when seated. If it is less, raise chair height. If the angle is greater, lower the chair height.
* Feet - Feet should touch the floor. Use a footrest or different chair if this is not the case.
* Work habits - Take a short break every 10-15 minutes. Vary your tasks as much as possible.
* Stretching - Strengthen and stretch your hands often.
o Clench your fists, hold, then spread your fingers out and hold. Repeat.
o With outstretched arms, repeatedly raise and lower your hands.
o Rotate your wrists repeatedly.
* Diet - Include vitamin B6 in your diet.
Although cases of CTS have increased as office jobs increase, extensive keyboard use does not have to lead to CTS. It's amazing how creating safe work areas can make such a difference. CTS is a serious condition, but fortunately it is preventable.