Take breaks -- and ice pain -- to cope with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Maybe your wrists and fingers swell when you leave work. Maybe they ache or go numb in the middle of the night.
Sounds as if you've been messing with your carpal tunnel -- that tiny tunnel in your wrist where the median nerve, flexor muscles and flexor tendons travel en route to your hands and fingers to make them open and close.
If you're a keyboard jockey, dental hygienist, factory worker or someone else who has been keeping your hands busy with repetitive motions or holding them for long periods in positions other than flat, you might have carpal tunnel syndrome.
"That tunnel is very, very tiny. ... So when there's swelling around the tendons, it fills up the space and causes pressure," said Debbie Amini, an occupational therapist and member of the American Occupational Therapy Association in Bethesda, Md. "And that puts pressure on the median nerve, so the nerve can no longer get nutrition from its blood supply.
"People who use their hands and their fingers a lot -- like typists -- can overuse those muscles to the point they become inflamed," she said.
Other factors can cause those hand muscles and tendons to swell, said Amini, whose expertise is hand rehabilitation and occupation-based hand therapy: working with tiny instruments or vibrating machines, holding a pinch or keeping your hands in extreme positions, bent forward or backward.
"If your hand is lying flat and you bend your wrist with the fingers pointing to the floor or if you point your fingers toward the ceiling, it's basically the extremes of either of those positions that increases the pressure," said Amini, the director of the occupational therapy assistant program at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C. "If somebody constantly has their hands in one extreme or the other, it's enough to cut off the blood supply to the nerves so the person can develop carpal tunnel syndrome."
This wasn't a big deal when people were pecking away at typewriters?
"People typing on the typewriter had to stop and move their hands in many different ways. They had to stop and return the carriage or put in a new piece of paper," she said. "The problem now is that you can sit on a computer and never, ever leave."