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Have a Desk Job? Don’t Ignore These Signs of Hand or Wrist Injury

April 06, 2023

After a long day in front of the computer, your brain may be numb. But your hands shouldn’t be.

If you have a desk job, don’t brush off early signs of a hand or wrist injury — because what starts as occasional symptoms can lead to long-term damage.

Here’s what to keep in mind, according to hand, wrist and elbow surgeon Christopher Judson, MD, from The Bone & Joint Institute.

The wrong office setup puts pressure on your nerves.

Say you work at a desk that’s too high, sit in a chair that’s too low, angle your keyboard the wrong way — you get it. That puts your body in an unnatural position while you type or mouse away.

And that puts pressure on the nerves in your hands and wrists (not to mention your neck and back).

“Over time, those nerves won’t send signals like they’re supposed to,” says Dr. Judson.

The result? Strange sensations, or no sensation at all.

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If you have these symptoms, you may have a hand or wrist injury.

Any of the following can be a concerning sign, including for carpal tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, or wrist or finger tendonitis.

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty bending and straightening your fingers
  • A catching, snapping or clicking sensation in your fingers

Schedule an appointment with an orthopedic expert — soon.

“Carpal tunnel isn’t like arthritis, where you can let it go and deal with it when it gets really bad,” says Dr. Judson. “You want to address it while the nerve is still healthy, or you may not be able to get back your normal nerve and hand function.”

> Related: The Truth Behind 6 Common Arthritis Myths

Treatment can range from hands-off to hands-on.

An orthopedic expert can perform an examination called two-point discrimination to measure your nerve health. From there, they’ll determine the right treatment.

That might include:

  • Advice for workstation ergonomics
  • Teaching you special stretches
  • Fitting you with a brace or splint
  • Giving cortisone shots
  • Performing surgery

“I have patients come in with earlier symptoms, and we find that their nerve is still working well. We can perform conservative treatments to preserve nerve function,” says Dr. Judson. “Other times, the nerve already shows signs of changes, and it can be more difficult to restore normal sensation and strength.”

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No symptoms? Here’s how to keep it that way.

“Patients will ask, ‘If I keep working at a computer, am I going to get carpal tunnel or tendonitis, or make it worse?’” says Dr. Judson. “Not if you do so in the correct position and take breaks.”

To avoid a hand or wrist injury, start with your desk posture. You should arrange things so your elbows are flexed at 90 degrees or less and your wrists are straight. Ask your employer if they offer a professional ergonomics assessment to check your setup.

Then, build in breaks to stretch your hands and wrists.

“At minimum, break every hour for stretches,” says Dr. Judson. If possible, double that. It’ll be even better for your hands and wrists.

And hey — your brain could probably use the break too.