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Computer-Related Hand Injuries

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?

Proper ergonomics 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.

 

While sitting 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 exercises.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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