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5 Ergonomic Solutions Proven to Reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk

Posted by Danny Sanchez, PT, CEAS on April 29, 2016

5 Ergonomic Solutions Proven to Reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk http://www.onsite-physio.com/workplace-wellness-programs/5-ergonomic-solutions-proven-to-reduce-carpal-tunnel-syndrome-risk @onsitephysioIn the 90s, the U.S. Department of Labor called carpal tunnel syndrome the “chief occupational hazard” of the decade. We expect tools and equipment to help save time. To make our work easier. But we have learned these “improvements” can also harm us. They force our bodies into unnatural positions. That puts too much stress on our muscles, tendons and skeleton. Over time, repetitive and awkward movements cause damage. 

Today, we have an entire industry devoted to ergonomics. We have ergonomic solutions proven to reduce carpal tunnel syndrome risk. But no one has yet found a way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s because there are so many potential causes.

Ergonomics is “The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.” The point is to reduce the chance of musculoskeletal injuries on the job. Ergonomically designed equipment helps people maintain proper posture. There are ergonomic solutions aimed specifically at reducing risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. There are also solutions aimed at reducing strain on other joints, from neck to feet.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Is Still an Expensive Problem

It continues to be the most-reported medical condition. About 900,000 cases are reported each year. Almost half of workers’ comp claims each year are due to carpal tunnel syndrome. This injury:

  • Keeps injured workers off the job an average of 31 days. Other repetitive injuries average 23 days. Other types of injuries average just 9 days.
  • Makes three-quarters of injured workers who required surgery unable to return to their job.
  • Results in “unlimited medical treatment” for about 36% of injured workers. That means they will need additional treatment. But you can’t predict for how long.
  • Costs employers $20,000 to $100,000 per workers’ comp claim.

That’s enough to make any workers’ comp or HR professional cringe.

You have to understand the causes in order to reduce risks. Some chronic diseases make you prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. Those include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism. Usually, though, the carpal tunnel is damaged by repetitive motion. The sheath that carries tendons and nerves through the wrist joint becomes swollen. That puts too much pressure on the nerves.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be very painful. It can cause numbness. It can even cause paralysis of the wrist. Left untreated, symptoms can turn into permanent injury.

Who Is at Risk?

A lot of people associate carpel tunnel syndrome with keyboard jobs. But many other types of work involve repetitive movement of the wrist. Cutting hair. Making espresso drinks. Driving a truck or operating heavy machinery. Cashiering. Office workers are not even in the top ten when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome risk. You may be surprised by that.

In fact, the highest risk occupations (in order) are:

  • Cafeteria workers and cooks
  • Electrical power line crews
  • Construction and maintenance workers, including painters in these industries
  • Highway workers
  • Metal workers
  • Mechanics that work on diesel engines, especially buses and trucks
  • Housekeeping personnel

Carpel tunnel syndrome can result in workers comp claims across many industries. Obviously, then, reducing risk is crucial. Ergonomic solutions can save money and improve job satisfaction. You may even reduce turnover, if people are leaving due to job-related pains.

5 Ergonomic Solutions You Should Implement

Some solutions involve modifying or replacing equipment. Some solutions involve using equipment and tools in a different way. And some solutions involve using our bodies in different ways. We have listed five key ergonomic solutions here. Each one is designed to avoid or reduce the impact of repetitive motion.

Some of these solutions are useful for all types of workers. You can adapt other ideas, according to each job. Or each work environment.

  1. Watch your posture. Sit up straight, with your spine against the back of your chair. Relax your shoulders, but don’t slump. Keep your elbows close to your body. Your forearms, wrists and hands should form a straight line when you’re typing or mousing. Use a padded wrist support for your keyboard and your mouse. Your mouse should be level with your keyboard and close to it.
  1. Hold and use tools as lightly as possible. That includes writing implements and your mouse. It also includes hand tools such as screwdrivers and brooms. Tap gently on your keyboard. Or your touchscreen. Or your cash register keys. Or your steering wheel.
  1. Replace old equipment and furniture with new ergonomic designs. Adjustable desks and work tables can accommodate different height workers. The same is true for chairs. You can’t keep your wrists in the proper position if your keyboard is too high or too low. Adjustable keyboard trays can help with this, too. New ergonomic keyboards have a “V” shape that relieves strain on your wrists and hands. You can adjust the tension on some keypads.
  1. Try not to bend your wrists too much in either direction. (That goes for your other joints, too.) Middle-of-the-range movement is less stressful.
  1. Take frequent mini-breaks to stretch and get your blood flowing. Stand up and move around. Stretch your wrists to loosen tension and relax your muscles. Stretch your arms and fingers, too. Shake them out. You don’t even have to stand up. You can use any time you aren’t keyboarding to stretch and relax.

Do your jobs require exerting a lot of force? Do workers use equipment that vibrates? These conditions cause even more strain on the wrists and hands. That makes relaxation and stretching breaks even more important.

A recent New York Times health guide notes, “Many companies are now taking action to help prevent repetitive stress injuries. In a major survey, 84% reported that they were modifying equipment, tasks and processes. Nearly 85% were analyzing their workstations and jobs, and 79% were buying new equipment.”

They further note, “Proper posture and exercise programs to strengthen the fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck may help prevent CTS.”

If one of your workers is injured, their physical therapist may teach them more ergonomic ways to work. But as a smart employer, you don’t want to wait until someone is hurt. Proactive prevention measures can reduce risk of carpel tunnel syndrome. Consider:

  • A start-of-shift exercise period. This will help everyone limber up and get their blood flowing.
  • Workshops that teach employees exercises to strengthen the hands, wrists and shoulders. Or how to use equipment and tools in a safe manner.
  • One-on-one job performance instruction performed by an ergonomics professional.
  • Scheduling more, shorter formal work breaks. Traditional break times may not be enough.

Workers’ comp professionals worry about the costs of carpal tunnel syndrome. And for good reason. Adopting ergonomic solutions that reduce risk can save your company money. You’ll be able to increase productivity, too.Hurt maid on ground who needs help to get back to work faster.

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