by Ned Stoller Ned Stoller

Squeeze. Twist. Shake. Repeat.  Squeeze. Twist. Shake. Repeat.  Now what, pain and numbness you say?  The median nerve that controls a workers hand passes through a narrow tunnel in the wrist formed by bones and the carpal ligament.  High-force squeezing, sharply twisted wrists and vibrations of the hands irritate this median nerve inside the carpal tunnel.  Repeating these irritating motions can permanently restrict the carpal tunnel.  This is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome resulting in the disabling symptoms of numbness and pain.  There are practical techniques to reduce irritating motions without stopping the work.


Workers must use their hands to hold tools as part of their job on the farm, on the construction site, or in the workshop.  To not use tools would be to not have a job.  Increasing the diameter of a tool handle and making it soft allows the worker to hold it tightly with less grip force of the hand.  Pipe foam insulation can be applied to frequently used tools and rest the hands while working.  Resting and stretching the hands for 1 minute every ½ hour also allows the carpal tunnel to relax.  Special Velcro grip gloves allow a worker to relax his hand even while holding a tool firmly.  Trading positions or using the opposite hand periodically also rests the hand without stopping the work.


Repeatedly twisting the wrist up/down, side to side, or rotationally can also be addressed without stopping the work.  Braces that hold the wrist in a neutral position force a worker to keep his hands in a healthy position.  Wearing hand braces while sleeping prevents subconscious wrist bending by workers with carpal tunnel syndrome.  Most hand tools have straight handles that force the worker to bend the wrist.  This can be fixed by attaching a right angle handle to a tool, changing the slope of the work station, or adjusting the height of the chair.  T-handle tools allow holding with a straight wrist.  It may take slightly more time to modify the work area so the job can be done with proper wrist angle, but over time it will pay off with less pain and physical impairments.


Long-term vibration of the hands will irritate the median nerve in the restricted carpal tunnel.  Low-frequency vibrations are the most damaging.  Tractor and heavy equipment steering wheels and control levers vibrate at low frequency.  Cordless impact wrenches and drivers reduce the repetitive forces and twisting of wrenches and screwdrivers, but the powered tools increase vibrations.  Anti-vibration gloves dampen the shaking when using power tools and driving equipment.  Reducing the vibrations will lessen the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome and reduce the symptoms.


The same motions that cause carpal tunnel syndrome also worsen the painful and disabling symptoms after the condition is diagnosed.  The repetitive motions of squeezing, twisting and vibrating the hands hasten the development of disabling symptoms.  Workers with carpal tunnel syndrome do not need to quit their jobs.  Workers can concentrate on resting their hands while working, decreasing grip forces on tools, minimize vibrations, and keep the wrists straight.  Using these practical techniques will allow them to continue working with less pain in spite of carpal tunnel syndrome.