By Mark C. Malys, PT, CHT
Do you hold a job
that requires you to work for hours at a computer every day? If the answer is
yes, you could be at risk for hand and wrist injuries. There are various causes
of chronic hand problems among people who spend much of their day sitting at a
computer. The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent these
problems from developing in the first place, and if you are already
experiencing hand and arm symptoms, the local hand-care team offers a high
level of expertise.
What are the root
causes of hand pain among office workers?
Hand and wrist
pain often originate from a poorly designed computer workstation. The sources
of these problems typically include chairs that are too high, too low, or that
inadequately support your back, and computer work stations that are either
poorly organized or that are the wrong height. Other common sources of hand and
wrist pain relate to the duration of your work activity. Repetitively using
certain muscles without rest, sustaining static positions, and working too many
hours a day at a computer keyboard can set you up for problems.
What types of
hand and wrist injuries are most common?
A very common
injury is tendonitis from overuse, often referred to as a repetitive strain
injury. Nerve compression syndromes can also occur from improper positioning
and direct compression on a nerve. Decreased blood flow to muscles and nerves
can cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling in hands, fingers,
thumbs, wrists, and arms.
What should I do
if I have symptoms?
If you are
experiencing symptoms, I recommend being proactive and making changes. Start
with a careful assessment of your workstation. An on-site consultation with a
physical therapist trained in ergonomics is very helpful in setting up a
workspace that is tailored to your specific needs. We have a certified
ergonomic assessment specialist on our hand-care team who can help you.
How should I set
up my workstation?
begins with your chair; if you don’t have a good foundation for sitting, you
can be setting yourself up for potential problems. Your feet should be flat on
the floor with your knees and hips at 90-degree angles. The chair should supply
good support to the lumbar region in your back. Your elbows should be at your
side at 90-degree angles, and your wrists should be horizontal or slightly
extended. Your computer mouse should be on the same plane as your keyboard. Use
a wrist rest to support your wrists between keystrokes.
erect in your chair, the top line of your computer monitor should be horizontal
with your eyes, directly in front of you, and approximately an arm’s length
away. If you wear bifocal glasses, your monitor should be tilted upward to
accommodate your lenses. If much of your time is spent performing data entry
from paper documents, use a document holder that is attached to your monitor.
What if I already
have painful symptoms?
If you are
experiencing pain, numbness, or tingling see your health care provider to have
your symptoms diagnosed. When you see a physical therapist, you can begin
treatment for your symptoms, correct any underlying problems, improve strength,
assess your daily work situation, and be given specific tailored home
Some people may
require surgery to correct chronic hand or wrist conditions. We are fortunate
to have highly trained hand surgeons on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical
Center, as well as physical therapists who specialize in hand therapy to help
patients with rehabilitation following surgery.
Mark C. Malys,
PT, CHT, is a physical therapist who has been a certified hand therapist since
1996. He can be reached at Cayuga Medical Center’s Department of Physical
Therapy at the Island Health Center at (607) 252-3500.