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Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
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Computer - Use 101

Avoiding harmful habits to prevent carpal tunnel

If you are reading this article, most likely you are sitting in front of a computer screen-possibly at the office browsing on a lunch hour or at home enjoying a little free time. For many of us, it's part of our normal day. But, have you ever considered that how you use the computer could be affecting your health? Unless you are careful, you could be developing harmful habits that could be doing more damage than you think.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a term used for nerve, muscle and tendon injuries that occur from repeated physical movements. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one diagnosis thought to be related to RSI. But there are some misunderstandings regarding who develops the syndrome and how it happens. So, in honor of International RSI Awareness Day (February 28), St. Luke's Hospital has provided some common-sense information for you to take back to the office.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and who can develop it?

Look at your arm. You have a passageway that leads from your forearm to your wrist called the carpal tunnel. This passageway contains the nerve that creates sensation or feeling through your arm to your fingers and thumb. When the tissues around this nerve become swollen and press against the nerve, the signals sent from the nerve through the carpal tunnel slows down. The result? Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-pain, numbness and tingling through the hand, wrist and fingers. If you experience these symptoms, consult your doctor.

Although any adult can develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, there are a few factors that predispose you to the problem. For example, older individuals, women, and/or those individuals who have underlying medical conditions, such as arthritis, all have a greater risk. In addition, carpal tunnel is highly linked to obesity and the symptoms are found to be worse in those who smoke.

How Can I Prevent It?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other forms of RSIs can be prevented. Timothy Lang, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital, provides the following tips for those working with a computer:
  • Get into position
    The correct position for working on a computer includes keeping your feet flat on the floor, your forearms level with your thighs and your wrists straight. Sit up tall and look down at the computer screen. You should not have to stretch forward to see the screen or reach for the keyboard from an awkward position.

  • Take a break every half hour
    The body is not built to stay in one position for too long-even with the most perfect posture. Make sure you move every 30 minutes-stretch a little or walk around. There are even websites that offer tips on stretches you can do at your desk.

  • Keep your shoulder free of telephones
    Do not tuck the telephone between your ear and shoulder-a common occurrence of those who use the computer and phone at the same time. It hurts your posture. Use a headset if at all possible.

  • Watch out for the mouse
    Reduce the small movements associated with a computer mouse by keeping it close to the keyboard to reduce movement, grip it lightly and replace it with keyboard functions whenever possible.
For more information on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or other RSIs, consult your doctor.

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