Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition involving pinching or squeezing of the median nerve at the wrist. Nerve entrapment occurs when the structures within the carpal tunnel located at the wrist do not have adequate space for the nerve to pass unimpaired. This may be a result of swelling of the structures within the tunnel or simply inadequate space available due to predisposing factors such as genetics (some people have smaller carpal tunnel than others) or swelling that occurs with pregnancy, the result of trauma, or due to diseases such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or obesity. Little evidence exists that indicates that carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of repetitive activities such as computer use; however, exposure to vibrating tools may increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel.
Signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are intermittent to constant pain and numbness of the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring finger that often occurs at night when the wrists may be flexed in sleep. If allowed to progress the numbness may occur more frequently and in extreme cases the muscle bulk near the thumb may shrink as the muscles waste and weaken.
What can be done? Effective treatment of the predisposing factors such as managing diabetes to prevent nerve damage or managing swelling in cases of tendonitis or rheumatoid arthritis is very important. Night splints are helpful to prevent bending of the wrist in sleep. Physical Therapy can also aid to treat swelling and recovery of lost muscle strength. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.
Even though there is not a definite link between computer use and carpal tunnel there are still things that can be done to ensure that symptoms are not aggravated by use of the computer. Care should be taken to work with the wrists in a neutral posture with the wrists straight (see picture) and to avoid contact stress by using soft wrist supports if you have a tendency to rest the wrists on the work surface or by using an alternate input device like a vertical mouse. It is also important to take allocated rest periods and micro-breaks (short breaks that are taken frequently throughout the day to pause from repetitive work.)
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