Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) refers to nerve discomfort experienced by people in various professions worldwide. It occurs due to constant pressure on the median nerve within the wrist.
Frequent, repetitive stress on the hand and wrist increases the likelihood of carpal tunnel. Research suggests that bending/twisting and rapid hand movements are evident occupational factors that can trigger the painful wrist syndrome.
If you have a job or hobby that requires repetitive use of your hands and wrists and puts pressure on them, you might be at an increased risk of having CTS. Adopting some preventive measures can help avoid this painful condition affecting the hands.
So, if you are wondering how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, this article is for you!
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
To prevent CTS, you need to know what causes it. The median nerve (which innervates your wrist and thumb region) passes through a narrow path, i.e., the carpal tunnel. Here, the nerve can get impinged and compressed, leading to a painful condition called carpal tunnel syndrome. Thus, the primary way to prevent it is to keep the neighboring soft tissue from squeezing the nerve.
Specific individuals are at a higher risk of having CTS. Risk groups include individuals involved in physical jobs such as rock drillers, laborers (lifting heavy weights), chefs/bakers, and musicians.
People with underlying health conditions such as diabetes are prone to nerve disorders such as peripheral neuropathy and CTS. Obese people and those with inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are also at higher risk of developing a CTS.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
An authentic 2021 study revealed different strategies to prevent carpal tunnel, including modification of work accessories (keyboard/mouse and other workstation items), exercise/stretching and physical therapy, etc.
While is no surefire way to prevent CTS, the following measure can minimize pressure on the hands and decrease the risk of the disorder:
1. Be Gentle During Work
An essential step to avoiding a carpal tunnel is to adopt a softer and gentler approach at work. In general routine, we do not consider the amount of force we exert in simple tasks.
Whether it's writing or typing, you need to keep a conscious check on the amount of pressure you exert while gripping objects to prevent wrist compression.
Try loosening up and relaxing your grip a bit. You may need to reconsider your keystrokes while typing on a keyboard. As a rule of thumb, the gentler, the better.
According to a study, computer use increases your propensity to develop CTS. Therefore, applying softer touch can help decrease the risk of the disorder.
2. Take Frequent Breaks
Another important step towards a healthy hand and wrist is to take short, frequent breaks. Most 9 to 5 workers are allotted tasks that need quick completion. Therefore, they often don’t get the opportunity to relax their hands.
Studies suggest that long hours on the keyboard can lead to the development of carpal tunnel.
Thus, it is best to release the pressure on your hands by stepping away from the work table and giving your hands and wrists a break from repetitive motions like typing on the keyboard.
Ideally, you should take a 10 to 15-minute break every hour to let your ligaments and tendons return to their normal position.
3. Take Care of Your Wrist
If you have underlying diabetes or are exposed to hand-arm vibrations at work, you need to be extra cautious about your hand health. Underlying health conditions such as diabetes and occupational factors increase your chances of nerve disorders such as CTS.
Therefore, you must ensure keeping the wrist within the safe limits of motion and in a neutral position. Studies show that due to the connection between the soft tissues (tendons and connective tissues), wrist flexion of 60 degrees predisposes to shear injury. Prolonged exposure to non-neutral postures of the wrist leads to a two-fold increase in the risk of CTS.
So, you should avoid flexing and extending the wrist all the way up (or greater than 60 degrees) to keep the pressure off the median nerve. An easy way of bringing the wrist to the neutral position is to take help from carpal tunnel syndrome medical devices. You may opt for a wrist brace for carpal tunnel syndrome to alleviate any initial symptoms.
You can also wear a carpal tunnel brace night splint while sleeping to keep the wrist in a neutral position and prevent the median nerve from squeezing. Night-time healing is the best, so these night splints effectively help prevent CTS.
4. Switch Hands
We agree that switching hands for work is easier said than done. Most people perform activities with their dominant hands. Switching to the non-dominant hand leads to reduced efficiency. But it's better to keep going than to stop.
If a job requires you to work using your hands continuously, it is helpful to switch hands to give them a break. Spare your right hand (for instance) and carry out the task with your left hand after every few minutes. That shall allow the dominant hand to rest while giving both hands a break without exerting excessive pressure on them.
5. Correct Your Posture
If you are still curious about how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, we have got another viable suggestion for you- correct your posture. Both your wrist and general body posture play a crucial role in the occurrence of the disorder. Your overall posture is directly linked to your forearm, hand, and wrist posture, which can significantly affect the musculoskeletal structure of the region.
You must be vigilant of the natural curvatures of your spine even when involved deep in a task. A poor posture creates a chain reaction that disrupts the neck, shoulders, hand, and wrist.
6. Keep Your Hands Warm (Especially During Winters)
It is a general observation that cold makes your hands stiff and painful. Keeping your hands warm may seem like a minor step in preventing carpal tunnel, but it is vital. Cold sensitivity is seen in patients suffering from nerve injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome). Thus, there is a strong connection between cold hands and CTS symptoms.
As per a study, cold exposure is associated with developing symptoms similar to carpal tunnel. You can wear gloves, especially during winter, to keep your wrist and fingers warm and keep CTS at bay.
7. Add Some Stretching to Your Routine
Several authentic studies have highlighted the positive outcomes of self-stretching to prevent CTS. Frequent stretching of the hand and wrist relieves the stress on the impinged nerve, keeping you safe from the nerve disorder.
The ideal time to stretch is during the work breaks (15 minutes breaks already mentioned). You can stretch by making a fist and sliding your fingers until they are straight. Repeat this step about five to 10 times. You can learn more about wrist stretches by clicking here.
As per studies, stretching with cock-up splints can improve the wrist's range of motion. That shall also keep the wrist safe from abnormal flexion and extension.
8. Visit an Occupational Therapist
An occupational therapist is a healthcare professional who deals with workplace issues and disorders. If you suspect CTS, you must regularly visit an occupational therapist early.
Studies suggest that these professionals in many offices/workplaces efficiently analyze the severity of your symptoms. Therapists provide conservative treatment programs for wrist pain and can timely inform you of the risks.
Occupational therapists can effectively diagnose your daily difficulties and guide you accordingly. Therefore, you should regularly visit your occupational therapist if your job requires repetitive hand or wrist motion, especially if you experience hand and wrist discomfort.
9. Make Modifications to Your Workspace
Workplace modifications play a crucial role in preventing carpal tunnel. An uncomfortable computer mouse or a non-responding keyboard can increase the risk of developing CTS.
You can talk to your superiors about a more ergonomic workstation setup. For a start, you can adjust your keyboard's position to be ideal for your wrist position. Keep your elbows closer to the side while typing, as this step will reduce the strain on your wrists.
10. Switch to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your daily diet can impart numerous benefits to your health. Ginger, turmeric, and garlic are some foods that have immense anti-inflammatory potential. Green leafy vegetables and fatty fish like salmon and tuna are also prominent anti-inflammatory foods.
Repetitive stress on the hand and thumb results in inflammation of the wrist ligaments and tendons. These diets can protect joints, muscles, and soft tissues from inflammation and keep you from developing CTS.
The best way to prevent carpal tunnel is to avoid placing excessive pressure on your hands and wrists, such as by taking short but regular breaks and stretching your hands to relax the muscles and release pressure on the median nerve. Wearing a splint, especially at night, will keep your wrist straight.
If you experience pain, numbness, or stiffness in your hand(s), you must see a doctor immediately for an early diagnosis and treatment.