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People who do a lot of work on computers likely have poor posture. Many workplaces and educational facilities are usually not equipped with the ergonomically correct devices needed to keep you from developing the repetitive motion injury known as carpal tunnel. Most people think that injury just develops on those who work with computers. However, when people push the keys on a cash register too hard, they are also at risk for developing the same injury. Sometimes you even have to watch how you carry things. If you find yourself carrying heavy bags or packages in the same hand all the time, you will want to change hands occasionally to avoid injury.


What is carpal tunnel?

When you feel numbness, tingling and other symptoms in your hand that may travel up into your arm, chances are you are experiencing carpal tunnel. Symptoms may start gradually with numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. The little finger, or the pinky, is never affected. It is not uncommon to feel discomfort in the wrist or even the palm of the hand. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, sometimes the simplest tasks can become difficult. When you are experiencing a flare up, it can be difficult to hold a pen, open a door or even drive your car. Many people are tempted to “shake out” their hand to relieve the numbing sensation. Sometimes this provides temporary relief, while other times it does nothing because the numb feeling is becoming constant.
As carpal tunnel develops, it causes a compressed nerve in a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist. Many times the wrist or the entire hand becomes weak, and you have the tendency to drop things. It is never a good idea to carry heavy objects solely in your affected hand. Even if you are wearing a wrist splint to stabilize your hand, it can still be weak enough to drop the object.


Who is prone to carpal tunnel?

Carpal tunnel is common in women, especially since fluid retention occurs in pregnancy or menopause. Fluid retention in the hands can put extra compression on the nerves. Repetitive motion is all that is needed to aggravate the situation. Arthritis in the hands causes muscle weakness, making the hands prone to injury. Anti-inflammatory drugs will provide temporary relief, but they are not a permanent solution.
Computer and cash register users can strike the keys a little too hard, causing weakness in the fingers and hands. Typing or striking keys is a definite repetitive motion. A few hours a day, almost every day of the week doing this type of activity with your hands almost makes repetitive motion injury a probability. A wrist splint can be worn to help keep the wrist stable while you are typing, but it is possible that it might not help much when items need to be scanned over the cash register and bagged. Your wrist might be stable, but your entire arm moves during this process.
If you have suffered a broken or dislocated wrist in the past, the small bones in the wrist could become deformed during the healing process. It is not usual for bones to shift during the injury process and then shift back during the healing process. While physical therapy will help bring back the full range of motion in a broken or dislocated wrist that is healing, it may not prevent the shifting of bones. This can make you more prone to carpal tunnel because it can alter the space in your wrist and hand, putting more pressure on the median nerve.


How is carpal tunnel treated?

Sometimes a person just knows when they are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. The numbing and tingling feeling is there either constantly or on and off. There is either a dull ache or constant pain. Heavy objects become almost impossible to lift with the hand that has carpal tunnel, if at all. The simplest tasks, like opening a door or turning a door knob, become a painful event. After all of these symptoms are experienced, logic points to treating them with a dose of ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medications. A simple pain reliever may not help if it does not contain an anti-inflammatory ingredient. Rest and ice will go a long way in bringing down any swelling and dulling the pain.
If your doctor has sent you to have the necessary tests for carpal tunnel syndrome and the specialist has found that you have it, they may be able to access whether corrective surgery could be beneficial to you. However, when it comes to corrective carpal tunnel surgery, not everyone benefits from it. Yes, almost everyone experiences relief a few weeks after the surgery, but it is hard to tell if it is going to be long- or short-term relief. Some people opt to have the surgery, and they make a full recovery with little to no pain or numbness. While others have the surgery and experience temporary relief, it may be followed by a relapse right back into everyday aches, pain, tingling and numbness. If you opt to have the surgery, it is important to keep in mind that exercises or jobs that require repetitive motion should be kept to a minimum. Even after having the surgery, you can still make an existing injury worse or cause a new injury altogether.
Talking to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing will help your doctor understand what you may need to feel relief. Compression is one treatment that can truly help with carpal tunnel syndrome, even if you are experiencing severe symptoms. Your doctor should be able to recommend a style of wrist splint that is right for you. All wrist splints partially immobilize the wrist to prevent it from moving. However, your fingers usually fit right through the splint and are able to move, so some movement in the wrist is likely, depending on the type of activity you are experiencing.
If you do a lot of work on a computer or cash register, you should be careful how heavy or hard you hit the keys. Even though you may not be aware of it, slamming the keys down as you type can be causing you more harm than you realize. You should take frequent breaks from typing by actually getting up from your chair and doing something besides typing. Working with an ergonomic keyboard will help you feel comfortable while typing. If you are using this type of keyboard for the first time, it may feel unusual or take a while to get used to, but your hands and wrists will benefit in the long run. If you are using a mouse with your computer, you should make sure it is at a comfortable level for your wrist. Some mouse pads may even have a built-in wrist pad for extra comfort.