Computer users, cashiers, assembly-line workers, meatpackers, sewing machine operators and musicians often get the same injury. What they all have in common are jobs that involve using their hands in repetitive motions that put a strain on the tendons of the wrist. The result is a debilitating disorder called carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which affects hundreds of thousands of Americans and costs employers billions of dollars a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, repetitive stress injuries, including CTS, are the fastest growing occupational illness. So widespread and economically draining are work-related musculoskeletal injuries that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have proposed new rules. Under these rules, a worker who has an ergonomic injury diagnosed by a doctor would be entitled to have the work environment fixed to relieve the cause. That might involve changing the height of a computer keyboard or an assembly line. Further, workers who must be assigned to lighter duty during recovery from ergonomic injuries would be guaranteed normal pay and benefits. A worker who must leave the job altogether would be guaranteed 90 percent pay and full benefits during recovery. You can head off developing hand-wrist overuse disorders by positioning your hands properly while working and recognizing and treating early signs of trouble. How Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Occur? The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of bone and ligament in your wrist. The median nerve, which controls sensation in the fingers and movement in some of the muscles in the hand, passes through this tunnel along with some of the finger tendons. Repeated hand or wrist movement can put stress on the tendons, causing them to swell and press on the median nerve. Such pressure causes pain and numbness, and it impairs movement in the hand and fingers. Anything that causes tissues in the carpal tunnel to swell, including pregnancy and thyroid disease, can compress the nerve. What are the Signs of CTS? First of all, don’t panic and assume that discomfort in your hands, wrists or arms is CTS. The pain may simply be overuse strain caused by doing too much too soon (just like an athlete, you need to train your limbs to go beyond a previously adequate level of conditioning). But don’t try to diagnose your own problem; let a doctor do that. Accurately diagnosing and dealing with pain early on will avert more severe problems from developing. Many people don’t associate common early warning signs of CTS, such as awakening at night with numbness in the hand, to job-related stress. The following symptoms may be intermittent at first, but can become persistent if the condition is not treated. • Decreased mobility of the fingers, hand, elbow or shoulder • Decreased hand strength • Dull aching discomfort or pain that occurs most commonly at night or in the early morning • Severe pain that awakens you during the night • Wrist pain that radiates to the forearm, shoulders, neck and chest • Dry skin, swelling or color changes in the hand • Weakness of the thumb • Tingling in all but the little finger • Numbness in the hand, resulting in weakness or clumsiness. Research conducted by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has determined that wrist exercises at the start of work and during periodic breaks can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. To be effective, the exercises should be done at the start of each work shift and after each break. The wrist exercises have been shown to decrease median nerve pressure and the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.Workers with hand -intensive jobs should do a five-minute exercise warm-up before starting work, just as runners stretch before a run to prevent injury. The exercises are as follows and are pictured below this article Extend and stretch both wrists and fingers acutely as if they are in a hand-stand position. Hold this position for a count of five. Straighten both wrists and relax fingers for a count of five. Make a tight fist with both hands. Then bend both wrists down while keeping the fist. Hold for a count of five. Straighten both wrists and relax fingers for a count of five. Repeat each exercise 10 times, then hang arms loosely at side and shake them for a couple of seconds. Please begin incorporating these exercises into your daily work or regular workout routine. If you do not exercise regularly, now is good time to start. The orthopedic surgeons also suggest that newly-diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome patients may want to limit some everyday activities that could put stress on the median nerve for the first seven to ten days of nonsurgical treatment. Many of these simple tasks can increase pressure on the median nerve of the wrist, thus worsening the condition. However, it is best that the patient follow treatment guidelines recommended by his or her personal physician. In the long run, daily exercise combined with job modification can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome development Exercises to Injure-Proof Your Wrists Keeping your wrists strong and flexible and alleviating strain on the carpal tunnel by stretching your wrists often during the day can help prevent injury. These exercises should be done three to five times a week. (A sixteen ounce soft-drink bottle or can of food can be used instead of a dumbbell.) Note: Do not do these exercises if you already have pain or numbness. They are meant as a preventive measure and may aggravate an existing problem.