As dental professionals, we are at an increased risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) due to our repetitive motions and the demands on our hands. CTS is a serious diagnosis for dental professionals, given how precise their hands must be to treat their patients. You may be wondering, "How can I prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?" It's also important to spot early signs of this condition and lessen daily damage to your hands and wrists.
First, what is carpal tunnel syndrome? According to the National Institutes of Health, CTS arises "when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist." The median nerve, which is contained within housed inside the carpal tunnel, provides feeling to the fingers (with the exception of the little finger) and controls the muscles at the base of the thumb. So, when this very important nerve is compressed, it can spell trouble for dental professionals.
Don't ignore any tingling, numbness or pain you may feel in your fingers or thumb. These may be early signs of CTS and should be checked out by a physician to determine the cause and to obtain treatment. Early treatment may head off more severe and lasting nerve damage.
Is there a way to prevent some of this nerve damage? Possibly. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is difficult to prevent CTS, but recognizing the most common risk factors and minimizing stress on your wrists may help lower your chance of developing this condition.
RDH Magazine notes that trying a softer approach while gripping dental instruments may protect your hands and wrists. Ease your grip when possible, and make sure you have proper leverage when you're performing a procedure. Make sure your hands are above the patient's mouth and not lifting up to reach their teeth, which may also put stress on your back and shoulders.
Just like runners stretch their legs before a jog to avoid injury, stretching your wrists may help prevent or manage developing CTS. For a hand and wrist workout you can do at home or in the office, try these four stretches recommended by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
- Wrist bends. With your elbow resting on a table, extend your hand out and bend it at the wrist at a 90 degree angle for five seconds. Then, bend it backward as close to 90 degrees as possible. Hold for five seconds. Repeat this motion 10 times. Rest and repeat the entire set two more times with a rest in between each set.
- Rubber ball squeeze. Take a small rubber ball that fits in the palm of your hand and squeeze the ball with moderate pressure for five seconds. Release. Repeat 10 times. Repeat the entire set two more times with a brief rest in between each set.
- Wrist flexing. With one arm extended in front of you and palm facing down, use the opposite hand to pull your fingertips and wrist downward. Gently stretch the wrist down and into the body for 15 to 30 seconds. Do three sets on each wrist.
- Half finger bend. Place your hands palm outward, with fingers pointing to the sky. Bend your middle finger joints halfway down the hand toward the palm while keeping your hands upright. Hold for five seconds. Repeat for three sets of 10.
If you are already experiencing symptoms of CTS, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy recommends trying these exercises daily for six to eight weeks. Ask your doctor if you should explore other management or preventive options, such as physical therapy.
The Mayo Clinic notes several risk factors that may increase your risk for developing CTS:
- Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may put pressure on your nerves.
- Health conditions that cause nerve damage (including diabetes) may also damage the nerves in your wrists and hands.
- Women are at a higher risk for CTS than men. Pregnancy and menopause can cause fluid retention that creates pressure within the carpal tunnel.
- Previous wrist injuries or having small wrists may be a contributing factor.
- Obesity can significantly increase your risk, so maintaining a consistent exercise routine and eating well may go far in preventing wrist problems at work.
For a long, healthy career, we must learn ways to prevent our own diseases while also helping our patients to prevent theirs. Being aware of the causes and risks of CTS is a step in the right direction!