7 Ways to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

If your work involves repetitive motions, such as assembling products or typing at a keyboard, you're more at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It's a condition caused by compression of the median nerve in the wrist that results in symptoms such as pain, numbness and tingling in your hands and fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the leading causes of absenteeism on the job, and may cost you thousands of dollars in medical bills and loss of wages. Women are three times more likely to get it, and having small wrists also heightens your risk.

However, work, gender, wrist size, or genetics do not guarantee that you'll fall victim to this neurological condition. Many health organizations maintain that it is possible to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Try these seven tips to keep your wrists healthy:

1. Choose ergonomic equipment. Ergonomically designed equipment and tools such as keyboards, computer mouses, and hand tools help to correct the alignment of your wrist when doing your job. To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome you should keep your wrists properly aligned to avoid compressing the median nerve--you shouldn't keep them bent upwards or downwards for prolonged periods.

2. Adjust your chair. If you work at a desk, position your chair so that your arms wrest on your desk at a right angle. This improves your posture, and prevents you from hunching your shoulders or bending your wrists as you work.

3. Take frequent breaks. Because repetitive motion is a primary cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, taking a few rest breaks throughout your work day will help to prevent it. Make it routine to take five-minute breaks every hour--and not just when you feel pain.

Also, move your hands into a different position during an activity; for instance, if you're reading on the computer don't keep your hands over the keyboard or holding the mouse; just let them relax.

4. Stretch for prevention. The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends stretching exercises before you begin work and during breaks. These exercises improve circulation and keep wrists strong and supple to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here's one exercise the AAOS recommends: Raise your hands out in front of you. Lift your fingers so they're pointing to the ceiling. Hold for five seconds. Lower your fingers and make two fists, then bend your wrists so your fists are pointing downwards. Hold for five seconds. Straighten out your wrists and relax your fingers to a count of five. Repeat this exercise 10 times, then lower your arms and shake them out.

5. Put on gloves. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recommends wearing fingerless gloves while you work to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. This helps to improve circulation and keeps your hands warm and flexible.

6. Wear a splint. If you have difficulty keeping your wrists straight when you work, try wearing a wrist splint. However, the AAOS states that using a splint may undermine the effects of stretching exercises for your wrists, so give the exercises a try first.

7. Tweak your diet. Water retention contributes to the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly explaining why the condition is also common during pregnancy. Try to limit your salt intake, drink a cup of dandelion tea daily, or speak to your doctor about using diuretics if you retain too much water.

There's still debate about the role vitamin B6 plays in carpal tunnel syndrome. This healthy nutrient contributes to several neural functions in the body, and a large-scale study found that many Americans suffer from vitamin B6 deficiency. Women who are of reproductive age, and those who use contraceptives, are among the groups most likely to be deficient in vitamin B6.

To increase your vitamin B6 intake, and possibly prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, add a daily multivitamin to your diet. Or, get the nutrient from food sources such as cereals, wheat germ, peanut butter, avocado, sunflower and sesame seeds, chickpeas, and fortified foods.


National Institutes of Health, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008 May;87(5):1446-54."Plasma pyridoxal 5'-phosphate in the U.S. population: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004."
Martha Savaria Morris, Mary Frances Picciano, Paul F Jacques and Jacob Selhub