How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Colin Hawkins / Getty Images

It’s the scourge of the office, the workplace injury all of us should fear: carpal tunnel syndrome. A compression of the median nerve, the syndrome innervates the palm side of the thumb as well as the index, middle, and half (yes, half) of the ring finger. When the median nerve is compressed as it travels through the wrist, the carpal tunnel itself, the result is pain, numbness, or weakness in the hand and wrist, which may radiate up to the elbow.

Those little aches become a big problem when postural deficiencies caused by office work are not corrected. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a few things can happen:

1. The nerve may become swollen as it travels through the narrow carpal tunnel, causing compression.

2. The retinaculum, which runs across the carpal tunnel, might become too tight, causing compression.

3. Fluids may build up in the wrist, causing compression.

You get the idea.

RELATED: The Real Reason You Have Plantar Fasciitis

So why does the median nerve get compressed from typing? The real reason is that the postures we put our bodies in cause us to compensate. As we hunch over our desk, all that rounding in our backs and shoulders pulls us out of alignment. Before you know it, our shoulder blades are drifting higher toward our ears. Having the shoulder that far out of position means your lats and lower traps become inefficient and your upper traps, levator scapula, and scalenes try to stabilize your shoulders since the lats and lower traps are out of position. If your stabilizers aren’t stabilizing then your movers have to work harder. In this case your wrist extensors and flexors have to absorb the excess for your shoulder blades.  

Try hiking your shoulder blades then type and, where do you feel it? Yes, your forearms. Now try this for an hour or even an 8-10 hour work day. While we can’t stop typing or working, we can do the things necessary to re-set our shoulders and back to take pressure off of our forearms. Here’s what you need to do: 

Tricep Release
• Lying on your side, place a foam roller or lacrosse ball under your tricep at tender and tight locations.
• Extend and retract the forearm, bending at the elbow.
• Perform 10-15 repetitions on each tender and tight spot.

Bicep Release
• Place a lacrosse ball just above your elbow crease. (If you don’t have a lacrosse ball, you can use your opposite hand to apply pressure to your biceps.)
• Flex and extend your elbow back and forth until you feel discomfort in that area decrease.
• Move the ball along multiple sore spots up the arm.
• Perform on both arms for 3-5 minutes.

Forearm Extensor Release
• Palpate the muscles below your elbow. To help you find it, extend your wrist backward and feel for the muscles contracting.
Flex and extend wrist while maintaining a comfortable pressure, rotate your forearm in and out in a twisting motion.
• Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. Spend time on more tender spots.
• While maintaining a comfortable pressure, actively extend and flex your wrist up and down through full range of motion.
• Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. Spend time on more tender spots.

Ball Over Head
• Lie on your back and keep your back flat to the floor or table.
• Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees, and keep your feet flat on the ground.
• While holding a medicine ball, raise arms straight (locked elbows) towards the ceiling until directly over chest.
• Punch up toward the ceiling (bring shoulders off the ground), hold punch, bring arms over head as far as you are able then bring it back towards your knees slowly, repeat.

Wall Angles — Kneeling
• Exercise can be performed using resistance bands or a cable resistance machine.
• Kneel with both knees on a pad, chest upright, shoulders down and back, abs engaged.
• Keep feet hip width apart and behind you.
• Start with arms raised and elbows at a 90-degree angle, holding a resistance band.
• Keeping arms and hands aligned with the body, bring elbows in to sides.
• Raise arms to starting position.

David Reavy, founder of Chicago-based React Physical Therapy, is the creator of the Reavy Method, a whole body approach to physical therapy and exercise. Reavy works with numerous pro athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLS, and the WNBA.

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