Repetitive stress injuries
Because many factors can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, there is no single mode of prevention. Treating any underlying medical condition is certainly important. Simple common sense may help minimize some risk factors predisposing a person to work-related CTS or other cumulative trauma disorders. A patient can learn how to adjust the work area, handle tools, or perform tasks in ways that put less stress on the hands and wrists. Proper posture and exercise programs to strengthen the fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck may help prevent CTS.
Many companies are now taking action to help prevent repetitive stress injuries. In a major survey, 84% reported that they were modifying equipment, tasks, and processes. Nearly 85% were analyzing their workstations and jobs, and 79% were buying new equipment. It should be stressed, however, that there has been no evidence that any of these methods can provide complete protection against CTS. The optimal corporate approach, if possible, is to reallocate workers suffering from repetitive stress injuries to other jobs.
Altering the way a person performs repetitive activities may help prevent inflammation in the hand and wrist. Most of the interventions described below have been found to reduce repetitive motion problems in the muscles and tendons of the hand and arm. They may reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, although there is no definite proof of this effect.
Replacing old tools with ergonomically designed new ones can be very helpful.
Rest Periods and Avoiding Repetition. Anyone who does repetitive tasks should begin with a short warm-up period, take frequent breaks, and avoid overexertion of the hand and finger muscles whenever possible. Employers should be urged to vary the tasks and work content of their employees.
Taking multiple "microbreaks" (about 3 minutes each) reduces strain and discomfort without decreasing productivity. Such breaks may include the following:
Good Posture. Good posture is extremely important in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly for typists and computer users.
Good Office Furniture. Poorly designed office furniture is a major contributor to bad posture. Chairs should be adjustable for height, with a supportive backrest. Custom-designed chairs, made for people who do not fit in standard chairs, can be expensive. However, the costs are often offset by the savings in medical expenses that follow injuries related to bad posture.
Voice Recognition Software. For CTS patients who must use a computer frequently, a variety of voice recognition software packages (ViaVoice, Voice Xpress, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, IListen) are now available, enabling virtually hands-free computer use.
Keyboard and Mouse Tips. Anyone using a keyboard and mouse has some options that may help protect the hands.
Innovative keyboard designs may reduce hand stress:
The force placed on the fingers, hands, and wrists by a repetitive task is an important contributor to CTS. To alleviate the effect of force on the wrist, tools and tasks should be designed so that the wrist position is the same as it would be if the arms dangled in a relaxed manner at the sides.
Hand and wrist exercises may help reduce the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Isometric and stretching exercises can strengthen the muscles in the wrists and hands, as well as the neck and shoulders, improving blood flow to these areas. Performing the simple exercises described below for 4 - 5 minutes every hour may be helpful.
Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Exercise 3. (Wrist Circle)
Fingers and Hand
Forearms (stretching these muscles will reduce tension in the wrist)
Neck and Shoulders
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