How to Minimize Carpal Tunnel Pain While Working from Home
This unprecedented year has thrown a considerable amount of stress our way, and now that many of us have been working from home for nearly nine months, a new worrisome issue might be arising: the development of wrist aches and pains, more specifically known as carpal tunnel. According to Jaclyn Fulop, the owner of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, "Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) happens when the median nerve, which is a major nerve in the hand and arm, gets pinched as it passes through a narrow tunnel in the wrist that's surrounded by bones and ligaments called the carpal tunnel." When this happens repeatedly, it can lead to tingling, weakness, pain, and, in some cases, numbness in the wrists and hands. Ahead, our experts explain how to reduce your likelihood of experiencing this painful condition—and reverse it if it has already set in.
Carpal Tunnel Causes
According to nationally-recognized internist Dr. Erika Schwartz, carpal tunnel is the result of repetitive motions practiced over long periods of time—like operating a track pad or mouse all day and scrolling through your phone all night. "Any continuous activity that applies pressure to the inner wrist can cause it," she explains, noting that conditions where fluid retention occurs where it typically doesn't—as is the case with edema in kidney and heart failure—can also increase incidence of carpal tunnel. Fulop tacks onto this, noting that the condition is especially common in pregnant women, as they have excessive water retention and swelling in the third trimester.
Stretch Wrists and Hands
Since carpal tunnel is caused by repetitive motions, it's important to take breaks from typing and scrolling—or whatever additional motion is causing the pain. One way to make the most of your breaks? Exercise your hands with a stress ball. Roll out your wrists and wiggle and your fingers to give those pulled-taut muscles a chance to relax back into their natural state.
Invest in Ergonomics
Fulop affirms that working from an ergonomic desk can infinitely reduce your chances of developing this condition. "Hand cramps are more prevalent when working from home versus being at [office desk] due to improper ergonomic setup," she explains. "When working from home, it's crucial to make sure your computer and work chair is set up correctly. While typing or using your mouse, the elbows must be positioned at 90 degrees to keep the wrists straight. If the wrists are flexed or extended while typing this can lead to carpal tunnel symptoms including finger and wrist cramping."
Talk to a Doctor
If modifying your work setup and making time for breaks doesn't mitigate the pain, it's time to speak to your doctor for guidance; together, you can pinpoint the problem and prevent nerve damage from occurring over time. Most doctors will recommend a few weeks of physical therapy to help ameliorate the pain—and, if that doesn't work, surgery can be a final option.