Repetitive Motion and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome By Jeff Anliker







Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is an epidemic of dynamic proportions. It's to the point where nearly everyone you speak to either currently suffers from symptoms of CTS or knows someone that has it or has had it. Now that’s a lot of people!  But it makes complete sense when you consider the underlying causes of this crippling disorder.

There is a general understanding among healthcare experts that repetitive movements are one of the most common factors for the development of CTS. In this day and time, many people are employed in occupations that require repetitive motion, such as computer techs, cashiers, secretaries and machine operators, to name just a few.

“There is evidence of a positive association between highly repetitive work alone and CTS. There is strong evidence of a positive association between highly repetitive work in combination with other job factors and CTS, based on currently available epidemiologic data.”  (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Although not as prevalent as repetitive motion by any means, another agreed upon cause of CTS results from edema (fluid retention), resulting from pregnancy, obesity and certain medical conditions like Congestive Heart Failure and Cirrhosis. There are also hundreds of prescription drugs such as Celebrex and birth control, which are known to cause the development of edema as well.  In the United States alone; nearly 31% of Americans are considered obese, about 5 million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure and almost one-half of the American populace take at least one prescription drug each day, all of which increase the chances of suffering from edema-related CTS. Now if you add repetitive motion to any one of the factors listed above, no wonder more than 300,000 surgeries for CTS are performed every year! But is surgery the best option for every case of CTS?

No, surgery is not always the best option for CTS.  As a matter of fact, it should be used as a last resort treatment, and any reputable physician will recommend that their patients always try non-invasive options before ever considering surgery. Implementing non-invasive treatments prior to utilizing invasive methods is also very important due to the fact that, as was just discussed above, many of the known causes for CTS would not be resolved with surgery, so patients would be subjecting themselves to drastic measures that would not resolve or help their condition in the least, as a matter of fact, it may exacerbate the condition and make it worse!

In cases of CTS where the known cause is due to repetitive motion, Ergonomic and Healthcare experts agree that treating CTS is a very simple matter of adjusting work habits, posture and hand positions as well as correcting underlying muscle imbalances in the upper extremity. These experts are also suggesting that the reason repetitive motions cause symptoms of CTS and other RSI’s is because one muscle group is being overworked while the opposing muscle group is underworked. Since muscles hold bones in place, overly weak or overly strong muscles can cause the bones to shift and misalign, thus increasing space on one side of the joint while decreasing space on the other side of the joint, resulting in the impingement of surrounding nerves and blood vessels on the side of the joint where the space has decreased.  So how can CTS related muscle imbalances be corrected or prevented altogether?    

There are a variety of products now available to treat muscle imbalances in the upper extremity so it is important to be careful what you choose. The most important thing to note when searching for the right product is to be certain that you are only exercising the muscle group that is underdeveloped.  If you accidently choose a device that strengthens the muscles that are already overused / overworked, you will only enhance the muscle imbalance and increase the symptoms of the disorder.  (So for the treatment of CTS, you would want to strengthen the muscles that open the hand.) Products such as squeeze balls and putty, which require squeezing, gripping and pinching, are exactly the exercises that must be avoided as these are the actions that led to the development of the condition in the first place.

You can also inquire with your local Chiropractors (DC) and Physical Therapists (PT) and ask them if they are educated in treating muscle imbalance as it relates to CTS. A properly trained DC or PT can help you with corrective exercise and stretches…but remember, if they suggest gripping, squeezing, finger walking, hand bicycles or any exercise that involves finger and wrist flexion, seek another healthcare practitioner that implements the appropriate corrective stretches and exercises for the treatment of CTS.

Good luck! I wish you a fast and full recovery!

Author: Jeff P. Anliker, LMT -Therapist, Inventor & Author.