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Ergonomic Essentials - What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Aug 18, 2007
When you continually stretch and pull the muscles and nerves in the wrist and hand through excessive repeated motions at work or home, carpal tunnel syndrome may occur causing pain, numbness and weakness in the hands, fingers and wrists. This painful affliction is caused when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. This nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

Symptoms usually begin gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm and the fingers at night. The thumb, middle and index fingers are most commonly afflicted. As symptoms worsen, people might feel tingling during the day and a experience a decreased grip strength. In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away. Some people even lose their ability to distinguish between hot and cold through touch.

Carpal tunnel is most commonly caused by trauma or injury to the wrist that may cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; work stress; repeated use of vibrating hand tools; fluid retention; or the development of a cyst or tumor in the carpal canal.

The risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome is not confined to people in a single industry or job, but is common among those who work on assembly lines doing manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, or fish packaging jobs.

While there are a number of ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome including exercise, medications and surgery, most doctors stress the importance of preventing it in the first place by replacing traditional office equipment and furniture with better, more agronomical styles and learning to perform specific stretching exercises; taking frequent rest breaks; wearing splints to keep wrists straight, and using correct posture and wrist positioning.

Trying something as simple as wearing fingerless gloves can help keep hands warm and flexible while redesigning workstations can enable a worker's wrist to maintain a more natural position during work and help alleviate the stress on muscles and joints that can cause injury in the first place.

Developing programs in ergonomics, the process of adapting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers can all help to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome as well as a variety of other physical ailments.
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