Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a very common condition seen in our practice when patients start to experience tingling and numbness of the hands. While we used to see this condition mostly in people operating heavy machinery and working with highly repetitive motions on assembly lines,the increased usage of technology such as computers, tablets, and smartphones has led to increasing cases of carpal tunnel from a wider variety of sources.
What is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by an overgrown ligament at the base of the thumb-side of the hand, which compresses the nerve and results in a sore thumb joint (among other symptoms). People with carpal tunnel will experience tingling and numbing sensations, but only in the first three digits of their hands (thumb, forefinger and middle finger). These carpal tunnel symptoms can even cause restless sleep. We often see patients describing themselves waking up at night due to these sensations and shaking their hand out to regain feeling that does not fully return.
Can Technology Use Really Cause Carpal Tunnel?
While there are many causes of carpal tunnel, constant and repetitive hand movements are most often the culprit. The swiping, typing, and gaming movements used with phones and computers require our fingers to stretch and flex to unnatural positions. With heavy repetition over time, these actions can lead to swollen tendons in the carpal tunnel, resulting in median nerve pressure. Continued pressure on the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel down the line.
The technology era has seen more and more children growing up using computers, playing video games and walking around with phones glued to their hands. As a result, we are seeing more carpal tunnel cases come through the doors as these children grow up and the ligament damage begins to show signs of its effects.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be treated in many ways. Simple splinting at night can go a long way to give the median nerve the rest that it needs to recover from the swelling and inflammation. If you can catch it early, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may resolve without surgery or other medical attention beyond a splint.
If surgery is needed, the operation is minimally invasive and recovery time is relatively quick. Even some surgeons who have had the condition themselves have returned to practice after only 12 days post-surgery. Carpal tunnel is treatable, and the surgery is not something to be afraid of.
Since technology isn’t going anywhere, there are several ways you can be proactive against Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that are directly related to technology usage.
When using a computer, sit properly with your elbows by your sides, and your wrists straight and at the same height as the keyboard (not raised up or bent).
Take breaks. If you are playing a game on your phone or computer, make sure to give your hands a break from the repetitive motions required to play.
Stretch and strengthen. Flex and extend your wrist and fingers to reduce stress and strain on this area.
Knowing what can potentially lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and taking actions to prevent it can help you avoid this peripheral nerve injury that appears to be on the rise.