Dealing with wrist pain

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI - known in the US as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) is caused by a swelling of the tissue in or near the narrow passageway of the wrist, called the carpal tunnel. This swelling puts pressure on the median nerve, which causes the symptoms of pain, tingling, weakness or numbness associated with RSI.

Any repetitive hand movements, especially in awkward positions, that put direct pressure on the wrist can lead to RSI. This includes typing, using a mouse, operating machinery that vibrates, using a screwdriver, or participating in sports such as cycling.

However, many other factors increase the likelihood of developing RSI. Build-up of fluid (oedema) in the wrist is an indicator, which means that pregnant women or people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes are at greater risk. Women taking birth control pills or going through menopause are also thought to be at risk. People who have diseases or illnesses that can cause arm pain, swelling in the joints and soft tissues in the arm, or reduce the blood flow to the hands, including obesity, lupus or thyroid disease, should also be careful.

The preventative measures listed below are simply a matter of changing a few habits. If you are already experiencing pain that could be attributed to RSI, these tips (with the exception of number seven) will help alleviate the symptoms. However, if the pain is severe or lasts longer than two weeks, you should see a doctor immediately. Untreated RSI can cause permanent nerve damage.

1. Stop any activity that you think may be causing finger, hand, or wrist numbness or pain.

2. Spread pressure and motion evenly throughout your hand and wrist.

• Keep your wrists straight or only slightly bent. Avoid activities that bend or twist the wrists for long periods of time.

• Try not to hold objects in the same position for long periods of time.

• Gripping with only the thumb and index finger can stress the wrist. Use your whole hand to grasp an object.

• Reduce the speed and force of repetitive hand movements. Type (or click that mouse) with a soft touch.

• When working with tools that vibrate, such as drills or sanders, use specially designed gloves that support the wrist and have vibration-absorbent padding.

3. Take frequent breaks from repetitive activities to stretch your hands and wrists.

4. Use correct posture.

• For activities such as

typing, keep your forearms parallel to the floor or slightly lowered.

• Position your keyboard so that you do not have to reach up to it.

• When your forearms are hanging by your side, keep your shoulders relaxed, not raised.

• Your wrists should be in line with your arms, not twisted or bent for long periods of time.

• Make sure your fingers are lower than your wrists when typing.

• Position your work at waist height or slightly lower if you have to exert force.

5. Avoid using too much salt if you tend to retain fluid.

6. Train yourself to use techniques that will minimise stress in your hand or wrist. In daily routines or hobbies, consider activities in which you make repeated finger, hand or wrist movements.

7. Do exercises to increase your wrist flexibility and strength.

If you are already experiencing RSI symptoms, use the tips listed above to eliminate the pain before attempting to exercise your wrists.