If your job requires long hours of typing, clicking, Excel sheet-making and online shopping when no one is looking, you’re likely no stranger to occasional pain in your wrist. Yet, if you’re noticing prolonged pain or sensations of numbness, tingling and discomfort, it may be indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome.
While you may think the pain itself is called “carpal tunnel,” Tom Walters, a physical therapist and author of “Rehab Science: How to Overcome Pain and Heal from Injury,” said that the carpal tunnel is a part of your wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, is actually a condition affecting the median nerve, one of the main nerves in your upper limbs. According to Walters, CTS generally happens when the median nerve is compressed or squeezed, and it can cause numbness, tingling and pain through your arms.
“This compression can result from sustained positions, such as working at a computer for extended periods, or from repetitive use of the wrist and fingers,” Walters told HuffPost.
Dan Ginader, a physical therapist in New York City, said that CTS is generally an overuse injury. “It can develop a few ways, but the most common is with frequent compression over the wrist or overuse of the muscles of the forearm,” Ginader said.
When you’re dealing with pain or discomfort, it’s natural to want a quick fix. According to Lisa Mitro, a Virginia-based physical therapist who specializes in helping runners, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds may help with pain relief. Yet, Mitro, Walters and Ginader all said that sustainably reducing the pain from CTS is more about prevention and planning.
“Since CTS is more of a nerve pain rather than a joint or muscular pain, there aren’t a lot of OTC medications that can ease symptoms,” Ginader said. “You should try to set up your workstation in a way that makes it comfortable to hold your wrist in a ‘neutral’ position. Not too extended, not too flexed, right in the middle.”
To help your wrists stay healthy, Mitro, Walters and Ginader shared their tips for dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome at home.
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Invest in a completely adjustable ergonomic chair
The biggest tip from Dan Ginader
, a physical therapist in New York City? Ensuring you have a comfortable, supportive work environment where your wrists are in a neutral position — meaning they're "not too extended, not too flexed, right in the middle," he said. Ginader said there should be nothing placing pressure on your wrists; they should be free and clear to move around and not hindered.
A good way to situate a supportive work environment is to swap the dinky wooden kitchen stool you've been sitting on for a proper and totally adjustable ergonomic desk chair.
"Adjust your chair height so ideally your feet are on the ground, knees are bent to 90 degrees, elbows are by your side, and your wrist is in more of a neutral position when using the keyboard," said Lisa Mitro
, a Virginia-based physical therapist who specialized in helping runners. "Your eyes and head position should be looking straight ahead at the computer screen."
We chose this ergonomic office chair with a 4.5-star Amazon rating from over 10,000 reviews. It's completely adjustable, so you can find the perfect height and position for your legs, neck, back, shoulder and arms, ensuring there is no extra pressure, tension or strain on your wrists.
Switch to an ergonomic mouse
For an easy, everyday swap, Tom Walters
, physical therapist and author of “Rehab Science: How to Overcome Pain and Heal from Injury,”
recommends switching to an ergonomic mouse that better positions your hand to support your wrist. Even if you work on a laptop, using an ergonomic mouse can keep you from hunching over the little touchpad.
Though he didn't recommend a specific mouse, we love this Logitech Bluetooth vertical mouse that has options for right- and left-handed users.
Ensure your wrists are in a neutral position
When thinking about carpal tunnel syndrome home office hacks, you may immediately think about those elongated soft and bouncy wrist cushions that rest at the foot of your computer. However, Ginader said these pillow-like or gel supports can actually increase the pressure on your carpal tunnel if you're pressing down into them or resting all of your wrist weight on them.
If you’re looking for a more supportive option, we found this rigid wrist support on Amazon. Reviewers love this wooden ergonomic wrist rest that helps ensure your wrists are in a neutral, supported position without adding more pressure, as your wrists can't sink into it. One customer says it has "solid support" and "helps me to remember to relax
when I’m typing."
Force yourself to take stretching breaks
All the experts we spoke to agree that taking breaks throughout the day is imperative for reliving carpal tunnel syndrome pain. If you get sucked into your work or won't remember to take breaks, they suggest setting a timer for every 30 to 60 minutes to encourage you to rest. "If your work requires repetitive use of your fingers and wrist, then it's important to take frequent breaks to stretch your wrists and forearms, which will help increase blood flow to the median nerve," Walters said.
I'm very obsessed with this visual timer I own to help me stay on track during the workday.
Use talk-to-text when you can
"You might consider using dictation software instead of typing from time to time in order to give the median nerve a bit of recovery time," Walters said.
We love Dragon Home dictation software, which lets you type out documents but also send emails and scroll social media, all with your voice.
Grab a splint for extra support
Walters and Mitro both recommend getting a splint or brace, something to "maintain a more neutral wrist alignment, which helps reduce median nerve stress and pain," Walters said.
The experts didn’t recommend a specific one, but reviewers love this adjustable wrist splint on Amazon that has a 4.6-star rating and comes in four sizes.