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Tips for Reducing Wrist Strain

Updated on December 11, 2015
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In our modern world where we spend unprecedented time in front of a computer, wrist strain is a common ailment. Typing on a keyboard and clicking a mouse all day, as well as other activities like typing, sewing, working with tools, or any repetitive motion can cause wear and tear to the wrist.

Common symptoms include pain which sometimes extends up into the arm or down into the fingers, numbness, tingling, or weakness. This can be a serious problem, especially if your livelihood requires use of your hands and wrists every day. When in doubt, see your doctor! Here are some tips for dealing with minor discomfort in the wrist.

Wrist brace

A medical wrist brace is a special glove that covers from the knuckles to about a third to halfway down the arm. It often contains a stiff plastic splint on the underside, and stretchy straps with velcro that attach it securely and snugly. It functions by keeping the wrist in the "neutral" position, with the hand aligned in a straight line with the arm, so that there isn't any extra stress on the muscles and nerves.

The most common time to wear a brace is overnight, but it can be worn during the day as well if it doesn't interfere with work. A study at the Medical College of Virginia showed that significant improvement in carpal tunnel symptoms occurred with six weeks of use.

Several styles and sizes of wrist brace can be found at most drug stores for a reasonable price. The brace should be worn snug enough to keep the wrist aligned, but not so tight that it's uncomfortable or causes numbness.

Switch hands

Part of the reason wrist strain sometimes happens is because we perform many actions almost entirely with one hand, usually the dominant one. Using a computer mouse, using tools like hammers and screwdrivers, sewing, drawing, and other activities put a lot of strain on the wrist, and because we do these actions with our dominant hand, it never gets a break. One way to reduce the load is to learn to do some activities with your non-dominant hand.

One of the easiest tasks to switch is using a mouse at your computer. The motions needed to operate a mouse are simple; just moving it around and making two clicks, so a lot of dexterity isn't needed. The controls on the mouse can be adjusted to reverse the left and right buttons, if desired. It feels clunky at first, but with practice, you can learn to operate a mouse with your non-dominant hand just as easily as with your dominant one. This is very useful for those with computer based jobs who must use a mouse all day.

Other activities can be learned this way as well. (I do a lot of hand sewing for my Etsy business, and I am currently learning to sew with my left hand instead of my right.) Spreading the workload between both hands can reduce the amount of pressure and strain on the soft tissues.

It may seem odd, but give it a try!

Exercises

One of the causes of wrist pain is the constant workload that we place on our hands and arms. Breaks are important to give the muscles some rest, and improve blood flow to the tissues. When doing work with your hands, try to take small, frequent breaks to give your wrist a breather. A few simple exercises can help:

-Shake: Shaking the hands, as if they are wet and you're trying to shake the water off, stretches the muscles in the hands and relieves tension.

-Wrist extension up: Place your palm against a wall or other vertical surface, with your arm held straight out (perpendicular) to the wall. You should be able to feel the muscles gently stretch in your forearm.

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-Wrist extension down: Repeat the above process, but this time place the top surface of your hand against the wall. Again, you should feel a pleasant pressure in the forearm muscles.

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Try to get into the habit of doing some exercises or stretches at least once an hour. Most wrist exercises can be done discreetly, so you can perform them at your desk or workstation without drawing attention.

Hot/cold compresses

Another trick that often helps reduce pain is to use a hot or cold compress. A cold compress can be an ice pack, a bag of frozen vegetables, or even a washcloth soaked in cold water. Cold compresses help numb pain and reduce swelling. A hot compress can be a warmed towel, a water bottle, or a microwaveable heat pad. Hot compresses increase blood flow to the area, which reduces stiffness and can speed healing.

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Again, any severe pain or numbness could potentially be serious and should be seen by a doctor. Taking care to prevent or reduce strain on the wrists can ease pain and improve your quality of life!

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