Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Teen-Agers

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Teen-Agers

As a certified hand therapist, I recently treated a 21 year old who had been having pain, numbness and tingling in her hands and wrists related to work activity.  When she initially contacted a doctor, she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.  Unfortunately, because of insurance issues, she was sent to a second physician who told her that it was impossible for her to have carpal tunnel syndrome because she was “too young”.  He then proceeded to treat her for a hand “strain”.  Because symptoms did not improve, this young woman was once again referred to third physician, a board certified hand surgeon, who listened to the description of her symptoms, ran the appropriate tests, and has since properly diagnosed her with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The carpal tunnel syndrome epidemic of the 1990s appears to have improved.  Once one of the most common injuries that I treated, carpal tunnel syndrome is no longer the diagnosis that I see most often.  Although I still treat many cases of repetitive strain injuries such as tendinitis and other nerve compressions, education and ergonomic intervention appears to have made a positive difference in the 30 to 40-something crowd.  Still, one in ten of us will have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome severe enough that we notice an impact on our daily activities.  Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are being seen increasingly in the younger population.

The reason that we may be seeing symptoms earlier is that teen-agers spend a significant amount of time using technology.  Whether texting, interacting on myspace or facebook, emailing, playing video games or guitar hero, performing school, homework and perhaps even part-time job activities, symptoms of repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are being seen and treated in the younger generation. 

Here are a few tips to help teen-agers and young adults stay pain-free:
  • Learn about ergonomic interventions for various electronic devices such as lap-tops, smartphones and PDAs, gaming devices, and desk-top computers.  Share the information with those at risk.
  • Learn the symptoms of repetitive strain injuries and don’t ignore the symptoms.  Take the At-Risk Questionnaire to see if you are at high-risk for developing symptoms.
  • Seek medical assistance quickly if you develop symptoms.  The earlier the medical intervention, the better chance of recovery.
  • Learn appropriate stretches.  Take frequent, short breaks and stretch often.  Don’t spend more than 30 minutes at any particular activity.
  • Don’t slouch.  Develop good posture habits.  Strengthen the postural muscles with exercises for the core and the mid and lower back.
  • Perform some type of physical and cardio activity daily. 
  • Share the workload.  On the days that a lot of time is spent on the computer with schoolwork or writing, don’t spend a lot of time gaming or texting.  Save those activities for the days that you are not at a desk and are more physically active.

Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing at the Hand Therapy & Occupational Fitness Center in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.

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