Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Risky Jobs

            Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or CTS, is one of many “repetitive strain injuries” or RSI’s and it’s one of the most common work place injuries, second only to low back pain!  The term “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” was first used in 1939 and since the 1950’s, this disabling overuse injury to the hand has been one of the most frequent work injuries reported. So, what jobs carry the greatest risk for developing CTS? 

            Basically, any job that requires fast, repetitive movements of the hands with little rest can be considered a potential “risky job.”  A partial list of the causes of RSI’s including CTS are: stress, tension/tightness of the arm muscles, inflammation of the wrist tendons, repetitive movements like keyboard/mouse work, poorly designed workstations, poor posture including awkward wrist/hand positions required on the job, heavy lift/carry workloads, vitamin deficiencies, and neck / spine complaints. Couple these jobs with age > 50, and being female – especially if she takes oral contraceptives (as they retain fluids), during pregnancy or menopause.

            Here’s a list of jobs we can consider “risky”: 

  • Typists: When typing speeds reach 60 words / minute, for 8 hrs a day, there can be up to 25 tons of pressure each day exerted in the wrist. Frequent breaks are NEEDED! 
  • Computer users:  The proper position is feet flat on the floor (adjustable chair necessary), arms at the side with elbows bent slightly MORE THAN 90 degrees; sitting up “tall” in the chair (prop a pillow, water bottle, or rolled up towel behind your back if necessary), tuck in the chin (avoid chin poking), and MOST IMPORTANT – TAKE BREAKS AS NEEDED.
  • Musicians: If you think about it, what task requires faster, repetitive movements of the fingers in awkward positions?  For example, playing a flute. Or, how about piano, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, violin, drums… wait a minute!  Just about every instrument requires awkward hand positions and fast repetitive movements!  It’s no wonder a large percentage of musicians develop CTS / RSIs! Again, the secret is taking meaningful breaks and stretching and when it’s uncontrolled, come see us (but DON’T wait too long)! 
  • Line workers:  There are many types of jobs where standing on a line while working in fast/repetitive environments such as assembling an engine, packing cookies, pushing wires into a harness, inserting screws, packing meat or fish, using vibrating tools, carpentry tasks such as screw driver use, hammering, sawing, lifting/carrying materials…… get the picture!  These jobs are notorious for CTS! 
  • Other RSI’s: include tennis elbow, golfer’s/bowler’s elbow, cubital tunnel syndrome (numbness in the pinky), de Quervain’s disease (thumb tendonitis), and sports injuries (sprains/strains). Postal workers, cake decorators, dentists and hygienists, as well as waiters are all at risk for developing CTS.   

            The bottom line is: 1. Take multiple breaks. 2. Work at your own pace. 3. Wear a wrist brace at night. (If recommended) 4. See a chiropractor (us!) to loosen up those tight hand, forearm, shoulder and neck joints and muscles to relieve nerve pressure. DON’T jump right to surgery – it’s the “last resort.”