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Repetitive Stress or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

What You Can Do For Repetitive Stress Syndrome:

Resting the affected extremity will give your overused tendons and muscles the opportunity to heal.  Additionally, it is important to notice your posture and to perform exercises which are designed to strengthen your wrists, forearms and shoulders.

To improve your posture, pay attention to the position of your shoulders.  Many people tend to raise them up toward their ears as they become more stressed.  Gently remind yourself to relax those tight neck and shoulder muscles, allowing the shoulders drop down to a lower and more relaxed position.  It can be helpful to shrug your shoulders up first, holding them briefly as high as you can lift them, and then letting them drop even lower as you release the shoulder shrug.  Repeat this several times throughout the day.

You can also roll your shoulders forward, and then back, to help reduce shoulder tension even more.

Also remember to take a break from the computer every 30 to 60 minutes, and get up to stretch or walk around. 

It is well worth the effort to train your non-dominant hand to control your mouse or track-pad.  Switching back and forth from one hand to the other will effectively reduce your repetitive stress in half.

Like many Americans, you've probably been spending a lot of time on your computer - researching topics, reading reviews and comparing products, shopping, reading articles, blogs and forums, watching videos, typing, and most of all dragging and clicking your mouse repeatedly. You may have begun to notice a chronic dull ache in the wrist you use with your mouse. There may also be a tingling sensation in your thumb, and pain in your forearm when you move your fingers.  You may assume that you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

It's actually quite a bit more likely that you've developed something we refer to as repetitive stress syndrome, which usually responds well to chiropractic treatment.

It is not unusual for internists, family physicians, and even many orthopedists to misdiagnose repetitive stress syndrome as carpal tunnel syndrome.  When a patient presents with wrist and thumb pain, many physicians jump to the conclusion that it is carpal tunnel syndrome. This unfortunately results in unnecessary neurologic testing, needless medication, and unwarranted surgeries.

True carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is relatively uncommon.  It is usually associated with pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, or decreased thyroid activity.1,2 Another indicator for CTS is that the pain is increased at night, and decreases with activity.  Here is a simple test for CTS that you can try at home: place the tips of your thumb and index finger together, forming a circle, and hold this position while another person attempts to pull your fingers apart. If your fingers are strong and can keep the circle closed, you probably don't have CTS.

The forearm, wrist and tendon pain that is common after prolonged use of a computer is due to RSS, which stands for repetitive stress syndrome. What exactly is RSS and what causes it?  Basically, it's the result of repeating the same activity too frequently and over too long a period of time.  The pain caused by RSS can be extremely uncomfortable and cause a significant amount of frustration and limitation.

If you are suffering from RSS, it is important to rest the effected areas of the body and avoid the irritating activities.  If you are experiencing computer-related repetitive stress on your dominant side, it is very helpful to  begin using your mouse with your opposite hand. It can be a bit challenging at first, but it's a highly effective way to alleviate your RSS symptoms.  Eventually, when your dominant hand/wrist is feeling better, you can continue to use your non-dominant hand, or switch back and forth throughout the day to lessen your risk of RSS re-occurrence.

Chiropractic treatment may also be helpful in treating RSS.  There are various musculoskeletal problems - most notably tight neck and shoulder muscles - that may contribute to RSS.  Your chiropractic physician will perform a complete evaluation to determine the source of the problem.

Treatment often includes gentle chiropractic adjustments to improve the mobility of your neck and to reduce stress and tension in your neck and shoulders. Trigger point therapy will also help to relax the tight muscles in your shoulders, wrist and forearm, and will help to alleviate the physical discomfort that accompanies RSS.

Chiropractic treatment, rehabilitative exercises, and resting the affected areas will often result in rapid improvement - decreased pain, greater mobility, and the ability to focus on the work you want to get done, rather than the pain that is getting in your way!

1Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm.
2Piazzini DB, et al. A systematic review of conservative treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. Clin Rehabil 21(4):299-314, 2007.

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