More than ever, we are becoming increasingly dependent on computers and cell phones to work, communicate, and gather information. Having a surplus of information at our fingertips is pretty impressive. However, the long hours of using our fingers to be constantly connected can be detrimental to our hands and wrists.
Long-term repetitive movement and improper alignment of the wrists and fingers can compress the median nerve, which may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or other hand and wrist problems. Symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome range from tingling, pain, and, occasionally, weakness in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with tingling or numbness in your hands or forearms, you could be experiencing the side effects of carpal tunnel syndrome. You may find relief from wearing a wrist splint (found easily at most drugstores) at night that supports the wrist in a neutral position while relieving pressure on the median nerve. Symptoms may come and go or become persistent over time. If you suspect that you might have carpal tunnel syndrome, ask your health care provider about getting tested.
Beyond carpal tunnel syndrome, there are a number of hand and wrist health issues associated with the overuse of typing, writing, texting, and driving. Here are six simple stretches to prevent and alleviate some of the painful symptoms associated with repetitive stress injuries to hands and wrists. These exercises are intended to strengthen and stretch your wrists, forearms, fingers, and shoulders. Please honor your flexibility and if any stretch causes too much discomfort, stop, and make adjustments.
1. Finger Stretch
Reach your right arm straight out in front of your body, palm facing away from you, and fingers facing down. Starting with your pinky and moving toward your thumb, gently massage each finger (one at a time) from the base to the tip of the finger. Hold the tip of each finger and move it toward your chest for a gentle stretch. Hold for about 10 seconds on each finger. Switch sides.
Tip: Throughout this exercise, stretch your palm forward and spread your fingers away from each other.
2. One-Arm Wrist Stretch
Reach your right arm out in front of you, palm facing away from you and fingers pointing down. Keep your shoulder down and relaxed. Grab the tip of all four fingers with your left hand and draw them toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and release. Then flip your hand so that your palm is facing you with fingers still pointing down. Now, hold all four fingers with your left hand and point your fingertips toward your body to stretch the top of your wrist. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat on your left hand.
3. Wrist Rolls
Bring your fingers into your palms to create a soft fist with each hand. Roll your wrists in circles about 10 times in each direction. Then bring your inner wrists together with your fingertips gently touching each other. Start to roll your inner hands into your outer hands creating a circle toward, and then away from, your body. Your inner wrists will touch and then your outer wrists will touch while your fingers follow the movement. Repeat 10 times.
4. Finger-Wrist-Shoulder Stretch
Interlace your fingers and stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing away from you. Focus on lengthening your inner elbows while keeping your shoulders pressed down. Hold this position for about 20 seconds and then reach over your head, fingers still interlaced, with palms facing the sky. Draw your arms back while pressing your shoulders down. Keep your core muscles engaged to keep your lower ribs from moving forward. You’re likely to feel this more in your shoulders and it can be pretty intense. Don’t forget to breathe! Do each stretch twice for about 20 to 30 seconds.
5. Shoulder Rolls
Roll the front of your shoulders forward and up as if you are trying to squeeze your ears with your shoulders. Hold them there for a moment and then slide your shoulders back and down. Do 5 in that direction, and then repeat 5 times in the opposite direction.
6. Forearm Stretch
Stand next to a desk, low counter, or other surface that you can lean against. Place both hands on the desk, palms down, with your fingers pointing toward you. Keep your shoulders down and lean your torso back slightly. Try to keep the base of your palms down and slightly bend your elbows in toward your body. Draw the weight of your body into your heels so you lean back and not forward. Hold for 30 seconds and then shake your arms out.
Tip: If you’re tall, you might have to squat a little, but don’t compromise your low back.
Rules of “Thumb” for Preventing Repetitive Injuries
Finally, here are a few guidelines for preventing repetitive wrist and hand injuries and curbing painful symptoms:
- Give your hands a break from your keypad during long work hours.
- Try to keep wrists flat or “neutral” while typing.
- Relax your shoulders. A lot of us are prone to store stress in our shoulders.
- Set yourself up for proper alignment at your desk. You should be able to rest your elbows alongside your body, and sit with a tall spine and neutral wrists. Be sure your head is stacked over your shoulders, not reaching forward.
- Use your whole hand, not just your fingers, when gripping or opening objects.