I’ve been at the computer for about four hours now, and I’m feeling that increasingly familiar tingle in my wrist and fingers. I’ve read research that says carpal tunnel syndrome is not caused by extensive computer use, but it’s hard to completely dispense with popular lore, especially when it seems logical. There are 27 bones in your hand, all fanning out from the very complex wrist joint. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there’s pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist and up into the hand. This irritation to the median nerve causes symptoms that include the tingling I’ve experienced as well as pain, stiffness and numbness. The irony is that I’m jumping in with a self-diagnosis uncovered from surfing the Internet.
Self-diagnosis is a risky business, but to get some basic information, I went to WebMD. Their site lists causes for carpal tunnel syndrome such as repetitive motion, swelling due to pregnancy and medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. People who drive regularly for work, typists, grocery store clerks and meat packers are among the jobs commonly associated with CTS. The New York Times Health Guide lists many kinds of workers affected by CTS, but writers didn’t specifically make that list.
Since there’s no convenient home test for CTS like with pregnancy, I’m looking into options for treatment. According to what I’ve read, it’s important to have good posture while working long hours at the computer. I’m a complete failure with this, as I spend hours curled up on my couch, laptop balanced on the arm of the couch, typing away. Sitting up straight in a real chair at a real desk is the first change I can make. Taking breaks from typing to shake out and stretch my wrists and hands is another action to take. I’ll give it a few weeks and see if this makes a difference.
The symptoms I’ve got are mild. For more serious symptoms and to deal with the condition early on, seeing a doctor is a good idea. I always thought that treatment for CTS involved surgery and the recovery time would be extensive. This is true in some cases, but advances in treatment don’t always involve invasive surgery. I read one case where the patient was back on the golf course in 16 days.
The Hand and Wrist Institute and other similar medical offices use a popular procedure called stitchless endoscopic carpal tunnel release that relieves pressure on the median nerve by cutting the constricting ligament. If you’re up for it, there’s even a video on their website demonstrating the procedure. The procedure takes about 10 minutes using local anesthesia, and from accounts I read shows good results. Healing time with SECTR is significantly less than open surgeries that have larger incisions.
Acupuncture has also been shown to be effective in lessening the symptoms of CTS. Studies comparing the effectiveness of acupuncture vs. corticosteroids highlight a reduction in the symptoms. Use of fMRI has shown a brain pathway impacted by acupuncture therapy that benefits chronic pain sufferers. One recent study used a combination of nighttime splints along with acupuncture and B-vitamins in treatment.
On the tech front, combatting CTS has gotten some recent attention with award-winning designer Vadim Kibardin releasing plans for a levitating mouse that would alleviate pressure on the wrist. It’s called The Bat, and it hovers and it hovers 10 millimeters beneath the weight of a user’s hand. Still in pre-production, The Bat works by use of magnetic rings. Now I just have to figure out if that will fit on the arm of my couch along with my laptop and coffee cup.
For more by Deborah Stambler, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.