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Carpal Tunnel Begins in Your Neck, Not Your Wrist

By Pamela Adams D.C.
Posted Monday, December 20, 2004

If Carpal Tunnel Syndrome comes from typing on the computer all day, why didn't people who typed on typewriters get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Because there was no computer screen to draw their heads forward, their chins tilted up, necks strained. Typewriters were placed lower than desks and typists tilted their heads down not forward.

The culprit in Carpal Tunnel pain, the Median nerve, exits the spinal cord from the lower part of your neck, travels through neck muscles under the collar bone to the front of your shoulder bone, then makes its way down your arm, past your elbow to your wrist where it passes through the Carpal Tunnel and into your hand.

That's a long way to go, and the nerve can be pinched anywhere along the route causing pain in your wrist and numbness in your hand and fingers. The very first and most common place it gets pinched is in your neck. You can wear a wrist brace, buy wrist rests, get an ergonomically correct keyboard, take painkillers, or have surgery and it won't help until you change the position of your head when you work at the computer.

Of course, it's not only computer workers who suffer from Carpal Tunnel symptoms. According to research from the Occupational Health Project at the University of Maryland, workers in the following occupations are most likely to develope the syndrome:
1. Assembler
2. Laborer--non-construction
3. Packaging-and-filling-machine operators
4. Janitors and cleaners
5. Butchers and meat cutters
6. Data entry keyers

What is the common-denominator among these occupations? Workers must hold their heads forward and down and reach forward with one or both arms repeatedly.

Learn to keep your head on straight, whatever you do. If your head is supported by your spinal column and not the poor, overworked muscles of your neck and upper back; if you position yourself so that you don't have to reach with your arm, you'll go along way towards relieving and preventing symptoms.

Here are some suggestions for computer users:
1. The computer monitor must be placed directly in front of you. The top of the monitor should be no higher than eye level.
2. Keyboards should be placed low, so that arms can hang at your sides with foreams at right angles to upper arms and wrists straight.
3. Feet are flat on the floor; weight is on the sitting bones. There should be a slight arch in your low back.
4. Your breastbone should be lifted, creating a lengthened space between the navel and breastbone. This brings your head back to an aligned position.
5. Placement of the mouse should be a close to the body as possible so there's no reaching. It's better to use a ball, because fingers are designed for small, precise movements, shoulders are not.
6. A timer set to ring every fifteen minutes or half-hour is a good way to check on your posture.
7. Sleep on your back, not sides, until symptoms subside. Use a flat, thin pillow.

The following exercise is meant to be done once every hour during the day, and, lastly, in bed just before sleep: Lying on your back with hands clasped behind your head, elbows resting on the floor or bed, tuck your chin into your neck as if to make a double chin. Keeping the chin tucked in, gently press your head back into your hands. Hold for a count of ten. Then relax your chin and neck and take a couple of deep breaths. Do a total of three presses in a set. Do one set only every hour.

(c)2003 Pamela Adams D.C.

About the Author
Dr. Pamela Adams helps undo the habits that cause you pain. She is the author of "Dr. Adams' Painless Guide to Computing" and a complimentary ezine, Self Health News. For more health tips and information, visit her website


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