When we look at issues affecting the elbows, wrists and hands, we’re mostly talking about overuse injuries. When you use a computer mouse, screwdriver or tennis racquet for hours on end, you forget to use the leverage of the whole upper body. As a result, you find that the muscles of the neck and shoulder get fatigued and tense from lack of movement while the smaller muscles in the forearm tire out from performing repeated small movements without a break. In the last two weeks, I’ve had a male computer programmer and avid female tennis player come to me for treatment for repetitive stress injuries to the elbow and forearms.
You’d never think that clicking on a computer mouse or typing on a keyboard would be so ‘hazardous’ to your health. In fact, you usually don’t realize it until the muscles in your forearms have been pushed over the edge into irritation and inflammation. At this point, even turning a doorknob, holding a coffee cup or pulling laundry out of the washing machine causes you to wince in pain.
Within the confined space and area of the forearm, there are about 20 different muscles to control flexion, extension and rotation (pronation/supination) of the wrist. Plus a whole bunch of nerves and blood vessels. That’s a recipe for something getting compressed and triggering pain and dysfunction. If you want to take a proactive approach to avoiding common problems like tennis/golfer’s elbow (tendonitis/tendinosis), carpal tunnel syndrome and DeQuervain’s syndrome, follow these self-defense tips:
- Adjust your computer desk to accommodate you better. When you are typing, you should be able to keep your wrists straight and your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Most desks are set too high so you can either place your keyboard on your lap or get a sliding keyboard tray.
- When you’re typing or doing housework or repairs around the house that involve alot of wrist movement or gripping, take breaks as often as possible. Every 30 minutes should be the bare minimum.
- With any type of work, whether you are carrying groceries or using a screwdriver, keep your arms in as close to your body as possible. The further out that you extend your arms, the more stress you end up putting on the elbow and wrist while exerting strength to perform the activity.
- If you have any current hand/wrist nerve problems, wearing a splint when sleeping is a good idea. This is because most people sleep with their wrists curled up which causes more compression on nerves and blood vessels in the wrist.
- If you are a regular tennis player or golfer, you should get frequent technique tuneups from a teaching pro. Minor adjustments to your swing or stroke can help prevent injuries. Or possibly the racquet or clubs you are using are wrong for you. A pro will be able to assess that for you too.
- If you lift weights regularly, make sure you balance out any arm flexor exercises (eg. bicep curls, wrist curls) with extensor exercises (eg. tricep extensions, wrist extensions). Injuries very commonly occur because there is an imbalance between opposing muscle groups.
Injuries can be avoided or minimized and now you have some more tips to get you started. But it all boils down to you actually doing them! Otherwise I may be seeing you in my Richmond Hill office for treatment on your elbow or wrist some time soon!
Prevention is the best medicine!