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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Concerns

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Concerns A Concern in a Variety of Occupational Settings

Carpal Tunnel SyndromeHave you ever been working at your desk trying to ignore the tingling or numbness you have in your hand and wrist? Then, a sharp, piercing pain suddenly shoots through your wrist and up your arm. This may not be just a passing cramp. More likely, you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a painful progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 31,000 workers developed this disorder from occupational exposure in 1997, up from 23,000 in 1988.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel SyndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, including repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or other daily activities.

What can be done to prevent it from developing?

A good prevention program can be compared to the two hands of the body; the right hand represents the overall program, and the left hand represents the engineering aspects. The five facets of the overall program include:

Screening: Medical screening is one way to determine the condition of prospective or current employees.

Training: An informed workforce is generally a more responsive workforce. Teaching employees what constitutes safe and unsafe work practices, and the role of other factors will help them to reduce the potential for occurrence of CTS.

Carpal Tunnel SyndromeExercise: The importance of both rest and exercise as methods of relieving the restriction should be stressed. There is good information available regarding specific exercises that can be used to help prevent CTS.

Administrative: One example of an administrative approach is to rotate employees, thereby reducing the duration of exposure. A second is the provision of wrist supports, for use during sleep when medically prescribed.

Engineering Aspects: This last area of the overall program is engineering, which addresses the following five specific facets that must be reduced, or preferably eliminated, in order to prevent harm:

  • Frequency
  • Force
  • Deviation
  • Duration
  • Restriction

Two “environmental” factors that also play a role in carpal tunnel syndrome development are temperature and vibration. The presence of temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit increases the potential for CTS development, as does significant vibration. Eliminating these factors results in the reduction of the potential for CTS development. While only a “thumbnail” sketch, the use of these guidelines can help you to “get a good grip” on controlling the occurrence of CTS in your company.

Next Step: If you have questions about CTS and what steps can be taken to prevent and treat CTS, contact Colin J. Brigham, Certified Professional Ergonomist at 610.524.5525, ext. 24.

* Portions adapted from the National Safety Council’s Trade and Services Newsletter.

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