By Erin Courtney, Life's Work Physical Therapy

Pop quiz! To move a mouse correctly, the action should come from the Wrist? Arm? Shoulder? Cat?

Answer: Arm, and not the wrist.

Concentrating the action of moving the mouse with only the wrist is just one way to aggravate the carpel tunnel, a narrow passageway located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve to your hand and the nine tendons that bend your fingers.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) causes pain, tingling, and numbness in the hand, wrist, and forearm. It is common in office workers and those whose jobs involve performing repetitive motions with their hands—in other words, most of us. Fortunately there are ways to prevent and treat carpal tunnel syndrome using physical therapy.

Repetitive motions like using a mouse or typing or doing data entry can compress the median nerve within the carpal tunnel of the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow canal formed of wrist bones and ligaments. Normally, the median nerve moves freely in the narrow carpal tunnel, however when compression occurs, this movement becomes constrained, which leads to chronic inflammation, which then can lead to painful symptoms and in severe cases, nerve damage.

Making sure your workstation is appropriately set up can go a long way towards preventing CTS as well as numerous other aches and pains (besides the usual work related ones!).

There are several tips that can help you set up a good workstation:  

  • Make sure you are sitting at your desk with good posture. Adjust the chair so your feet are firmly on the ground and the armrests allow your elbows to rest at 90 degrees.
  • Adjust the monitor so that your eyes are looking at the upper third of the screen and position it about arm’s length away
  • Keep the wrists relaxed while typing and use a foam or gel keyboard pad to prevent excessive bending of the wrists
  • Position the mouse in a comfortable position, close enough that you won’t have to reach for it, remember the arm moves the mouse, not the wrist
  • If using a laptop for long periods of time, invest in an external keyboard and mouse, it is difficult to keep good wrist position when using a laptop

Anyone who works at a computer sitting at a desk regularly needs to implement good ergonomics. If you feel minor symptoms, making adjustments to your desk or workstation and fine tuning your posture may resolve the issue. The important thing to remember is that CTS is easier to treat the earlier it is diagnosed. If you have pain, consult your physical therapist—there are many exercises that can help you regain use, lessen pain, and avoid surgery (unless it is absolutely necessary).

GreenField Says

About Erin: My goal has always been to help people achieve their goals. I love the opportunity that physical therapy offers to collaborate with and be an advocate for patients. I love the challenge that each individual case presents and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient successfully through their treatment. Every day offers a new chance for learning and growth as a clinician and each challenge enables me to become a better therapist for my patients.

Erin treats GreenField Health patients at both the Westside and Eastside locations. To make an appointment to see her, please call 503-292-9560.