If your job or favorite hobby puts strain on your hands and wrists, you might wonder if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Maybe you’ve got some symptoms, like tingling or numbness in your fingers, and you want to make sure it doesn’t get worse. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on your median nerve. This nerve gives you feeling in your thumb and all your fingers except your pinky. When the median nerve goes through your wrist, it passes through a narrow path -- the carpal tunnel -- that’s made of bone and ligament. If you get any swelling in your wrist, this tunnel gets squeezed and pinches your median nerve, which causes your symptoms.
There’s no one, surefire way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. But if you reduce stress and strain on your hands and wrists as much as you can, you may keep it from getting worse.
1. Try a Softer Touch
Often in our daily routines, we get so used to doing things a certain way that we don’t even think about it. Many times, you may use more force than you need to get the job done. For instance, you might grip your tools too tightly when a firm hold is plenty. Or you may pound your computer keyboard when gentle keystrokes will do.
As you go through your day, keep an eye on how tense your hands are and how much pressure you put on them. If you can back off even a little, your hands and wrists will thank you.
2. Give Yourself a Break
Step away from your work to bend or stretch your hands. A 10- to 15-minute break every hour is ideal. This is especially important if you use tools that vibrate or make you apply a lot of force.
3. Stretch Often
When you take those breaks (or any time throughout the day), try this simple stretch:
- Make a fist
- Slide your fingers up until they point straight out
- Repeat 5-10 times
Or this one:
- Make a fist
- Release your fingers and fan them out. Stretch them as far as you can.
- Repeat 5-10 times
4. Stay Neutral
If you can, avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. When you keep your wrist in a straight, neutral position, it takes the pressure off your median nerve.
Wearing a wrist brace when you sleep can help you do this. It might also help to wear it during activities that trigger your symptoms.
5. Switch It Up
Try to avoid doing the same hand and wrist motions over and over again. For example, if you have a task that you always do with your right hand, do it with your left instead. Or, mix up your tasks as much as you can to give your muscles a break.
6. Watch Your Posture
While it’s natural to focus on your wrist and hands, how you hold the rest of your body can also make a difference. Poor posture may cause you to roll your shoulders forward. This sets off a chain reaction that shortens your neck and shoulder muscles, crunches the nerves in your neck, and makes wrist problems worse.
7. Stay Warm
It sounds simple, but it makes a difference. When you’re cold, pain and stiffness get worse. Even gloves with no fingers can be helpful because they keep your hands and wrists warm and loose.
8. Talk to Your Supervisor
If your work triggers your symptoms, ask you manager about changing up your work space. You may be able to alter anything from your workstation setup to tool handles to how tasks get done to see if it helps your symptoms. You might also be able to trade off with co-workers so you can avoid the same task over and over.
If you work at a computer, try these things:
- Adjust your keyboard position so you don’t have to bend your wrists when you type.
- Keep your elbows close to your side as you type.
9. See an Occupational Therapist
This medical professional may be able to:
- Show you exercises to help stretch and strengthen your hand and wrist muscles
- Show you how to change your routine motions in a way that eases stress on your hands and wrists