How to Mitigate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Back-to-School Season

close up of a person holding their wrist

Identify Carpal Tunnel Symptoms and Find Useful Tips for Relief

Improper technique can lead to different orthopedic issues. For example, sitting with poor posture can result in tension headaches and neck pain. Lifting heavy objects by bending at the waist can cause severe back problems. Gripping a writing utensil too hard can trigger carpal tunnel symptoms.

During back-to-school season, students are expected to sit for long periods of time, take copious notes, and operate a computer. Although these tasks sound simple enough, people tend to use some form of improper technique that puts a strain on their body. This leads to a significant uptick in carpal tunnel cases among high school and college students.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that affects the hand and wrist. It occurs when the median nerve is squeezed or compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel, which is the narrow passageway inside the wrist. Depending on the severity of the condition, carpal tunnel syndrome can range from being a minor annoyance to extremely painful and debilitating.

Carpal tunnel symptoms include:

  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Pins and needles
  • Tingling or burning
  • Swollen fingers
  • Weakened grip

According to MedlinePlus, approximately 1 to 5% of the population has carpal tunnel syndrome, and it generally impacts people ages 40 and older. However, students should familiarize themselves with the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome and preventative best practices to help mitigate it in the future.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

In a broad sense, any activity that puts pressure on the median nerve can cause carpal tunnel. Examples include operating vibrating machinery or tools, engaging in activities that require repetitive or prolonged flexing at the wrist, gripping objects too tightly, or operating a keyboard or mouse with the wrists in a non-neutral position.

Many students may experience carpal tunnel symptoms when squeezing a writing utensil too tightly or using improper technique when typing. Additionally, some students develop carpal tunnel due to certain motions made during athletic activities, such as pickleball or tennis.

Other causes of carpal tunnel include:

  • Injuries to the wrist, such as breaks, sprains, and dislocation.
  • Diseases that affect the bones and joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • Metabolic or hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or menopause.
  • Genetic factors and family history.
  • Gender; women are statistically more likely to develop carpal tunnel.
  • Medication factors; the breast cancer drug Arimidex has been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Obesity; overweight individuals are more likely to develop carpal tunnel.
  • Medical conditions such as lymphedema, kidney failure, and thyroid disorders.

How Can Students Prevent Carpal Tunnel?

Students who don’t have any medical conditions or anatomic factors that are linked to carpal tunnel can prevent it by employing a few best practices. Be mindful of the five following tips when taking notes, sitting, or using a computer:

  1. Relax your grip when taking notes. Students may also find it helpful to use an ergonomic writing tool that’s designed to mitigate carpal tunnel symptoms.
  2. Always keep your wrist as neutral as possible when writing, using a mouse, and typing. This ensures that no pressure is being placed on the median nerve.
  3. Regularly take breaks. If you feel pain or discomfort in your wrist, don’t try to push through it. Gently bending and stretching your hands should provide relief.
  4. Purchase computer accessories designed to mitigate carpal tunnel. Students can find affordable products online that provide wrist support when using a computer or mouse.
  5. Keep your hand and wrist warm. Working in a cold environment increases the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel.

Managing Carpal Tunnel and How to Locate an Orthopedic Doctor Near You

Behavior modification and extended rest help most people find relief from carpal tunnel symptoms; however, those with a severe case of carpal tunnel may benefit from wearing a medical device, anti-inflammatory medication, or – as a last resort – surgery.

If you are experiencing chronic carpal tunnel, the best thing to do is to reach out to an orthopedic doctor for an examination. During the initial appointment, your orthopedic doctor will collect some basic medical history and perform an exam. Depending on your condition, you may need an MRI or X-rays, which are imaging tests that allow physicians to see bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel, your orthopedic doctor can develop a treatment plan that helps manage carpal tunnel and its symptoms. Most cases of carpal tunnel are resolved without the use of invasive methods; however, should you require surgery to permanently relieve symptoms, your doctor will refer you to a trusted orthopedic surgeon who specializes in performing surgery in the hand and wrist area.