|Carpal Tunnel: Stop Blaming Your Computer
USA Weekend Magazine, March 26, 2006
by Susan T. Lennon
If pain, tingling, and weakness in your fingers wake you up at night, and you have trouble making a fist during the day, you might be one of the 2-3 percent of Americans with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). But guess what? Your long hours at the computer didn’t cause it, according to Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
“While certain other work-related musculoskeletal disorders called repetitive stress injuries are linked to heavy computer use,” explains Barry P. Simmons, M.D., associate professor of Harvard Medical School and chief, Hand/Upper Extremity Service, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, “carpal tunnel syndrome – where the median nerve at the base of the palm is compressed – might come from being overweight, having a prior bone fracture with severe trauma, pregnancy, or, possibly even your genes.” It can also be related to your occupation, especially if you’re a meat packer, sewer, use vibratory tools, or work on an assembly line. But, often, the cause is unknown.
Although there’s no specific prevention for carpal tunnel syndrome, early diagnosis is vital to avoid permanent damage to this nerve.
- Get a full medical exam. If you have diabetes or diseases that cause inflammation like lupus and arthritis, they might worsen your CTS – so treat them first
- For two weeks, avoid activities that worsen the pain
- Wear a wrist-immobilizing splint at night
- Take up yoga, weightlifting, aerobics or other exercise
- Try acupuncture
- Ask your doctor about corticosteroid injections directly into the carpal tunnel – it may relieve - or even cure – symptoms, especially in younger patients who are newly diagnosed
- Consider surgery. Less than a third of people need it but you might benefit if your symptoms have lasted more than six months
- Don’t load up on Vitamin B6, once recommended – not only does it not work, it can cause nerve damage
- Because the pain comes from the nerve, medicines like ibuprofen, naproxen, and COX-2 inhibitors won’t help