If you’re planning on spending the long weekend honing your DOTA 2 skills to become a member of the TNC Pro Team, think again, brother—especially if you already spend most of your working days in front of a keyboard. The probability of developing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is very real.
Now, you’ve probably heard of CTS before, but what is it really, and how serious can it get? As the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) puts it, carpal tunnel syndrome “occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand—the median nerve—is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.” The median nerve, together with tendons that flex your fingers, can be found in the carpal tunnel (a passageway made of bones and ligaments in the palm side of your wrist), hence the name.
Symptoms of CTS can start with a feeling of numbness, tingling sensations, or a pins-and-needles kind of pain in the hand or fingers and are commonly first experienced at night. The pain can even creep up to your arm. “Shaking it out” may relieve the pain, but as the condition develops over time, “occasional shock-like sensations that radiate to the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers” can be felt, explains the AAOS. Weakness of grip, clumsiness, and in some cases, even a feeling of imaginary swelling can develop.
According to the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (US NINDS), a number of factors can contribute to the pinching or pagkaipit of the median nerve. Swelling due to trauma or injury is one. Preexisting conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid gland imbalance, and even diabetes can also play a role. The US NINDS also points out “mechanical problems in the wrist joint, work stress, [and] repeated use of vibrating hand tools,” (ahem) as possible causes too.
Although the US NINDS reveals that assembly line workers are the most common sufferers of CTS, repeatedly bending your wrist—such as when you’re hunched over and typing madly away on your badly setup computer keyboard—can also put you at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In the latest LabStat Updates released by the Philippine Statistics Authority in October 2015, the number of employees suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome increased by 138.6 percent from 2,556 employees in 2011 to 6,098 employees in 2013. Carpal tunnel syndrome is within the top 10 most common occupational diseases in the country, so you really should watch out.
Prevention and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome go hand in hand. To avoid developing CTS in the first place, it’s important to stay on top of your arthritis, hypothyroidism, or diabetes. Treating these conditions may also alleviate your carpal tunnel syndrome once it has set in. Other CTS treatment options include wearing a wrist splint, the injection of corticosteroids (which should be done by your physician!), and in severe cases, surgery. Not to worry, though, the National Health Services of the United Kingdom (NHS UK) assures that you won’t have to stay overnight at the hospital for the surgery, and it can be done in under an hour.
For prevention of possibly keyboard-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends the following:
Take 3-minute microbreaks every now and then
Use this opportunity to stretch out those limbs. This will help rest your tense muscles and aching joints while refreshing your brain at the same time.
Maintain good posture at all times
Be sure to sit straight but comfortably with your spine resting against the back of your chair and your shoulders relaxed. Your elbows should be aligned to the sides of your body and your wrists should be straight when positioned on top of your desk and keyboard. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, and make sure that your monitor is at eye level, so you don’t keep bending your neck over.
Be picky with your workstation furniture and computer accessories
From desks to chairs, and keyboards and mice, ergonomic is the way to go. Designed with maximum comfort and ease of use in mind, these can help make your days toiling away in front of your screen more bearable, less stressful, and less strenuous on your body.
But seriously, staying away from your computer when you don’t need to be in front of it won’t hurt. Whether it be for gaming or, ahem, watching some of your favorite “art films,” giving up some screen time won’t just help keep your wrists safe (what with all the button mashing and, uhm, rubbing and tugging that can occur). It’ll do your eyes and brain some good, too.