You’re working feverishly on your latest novel when you notice it—a tingling pins-and-needles sensation in your fingers and hand. Those of us who spend a large part of our day typing away at a keyboard are at risk for a class of health problems called cumulative trauma disorders. One in particular stands out as being problematic for writers—carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
What it is: Our wrists have a lot going on in them. There are tiny bones, tendons and nerves that all come together in one little area called the carpal tunnel to provide us with our wrist and hand functioning. When our daily activities put undue stress on this area—usually through repetitive motion, like typing on a keyboard—the grand-daddy wrist nerve, called the median nerve, gets squeezed and tendons surrounding the nerve swell. Problem is, because the area is so tiny, these tendons have nowhere to put their swollen selves but inward, pressing against the already harassed median nerve. Since this nerve is responsible for providing sensation to the hand as well as conducting signals from the brain, this squeezing can become problematic, leading to a tingling numbness in the fingers, hand and sometimes even up the arm. It usually affects your dominant hand first, though it may eventually affect the other hand as well.
You might stop the tingling sensation by shaking your arm around a little, but this shouldn’t become your quick-and-only fix. Catching CTS early is critical, because if left untreated the inflamed tendons can wear down the outside coating of the nerve, called the myelin sheath. This sheath is super important, acting like a grease covering your nerves. Because of this “grease,” messages speed along from the brain to the hand, but without it, messaging slugs down. Worst of all, without the sheath’s slippery protection, you can lose the ability to feel your hand and even grasp with it.
Whose risk is greatest? [Read more…]