With an estimated 7-16% of people in the UK suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, it is one of the most common office workplace injuries and can significantly impact both wellbeing and productivity. Repetitive computer work can often cause or worsen carpal tunnel syndrome, so it is vital that workstations are set up correctly to minimise strain on the arms, wrists and hands and reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In this guide, we’ll explain what causes carpal tunnel syndrome and how to optimise your workstation to avoid it.
Click on a link to jump to that section:
Find out what can cause carpal tunnel syndrome in regards to sedentary office work.
Read the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and which areas of the body it affects.
Read the features of an ideal workstation for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Find out whether sit-stand workstations are the best choice for people suffering with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Read our tips for doing office work with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Find out when you may need to get guidance from a professional regarding symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
View our recommended products for working with carpal tunnel syndrome.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure is applied to the median nerve in the wrist. This nerve works to control many muscle movements in the thumb, and it carries sensation from the fingers and thumb to the brain. When tendons surrounding the nerve become swollen, they squeeze this nerve and prevent it from working correctly, resulting in a range of uncomfortable symptoms.
There are many reasons why the tendons and tissues in the wrist can become swollen and cause CTS, including:
– Repetitive bending of the wrist
– Repetitive movements of the arms, wrists, hands or fingers
– Injury previously sustained to the wrist
– Poor alignment, such as hands being positioned lower than the wrists when typing or writing
– Frequent use of vibrating tools
Some people are more likely to develop CTS than others. Conditions that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
– Thyroid conditions
– Being overweight
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are:
– Pain in the hand and wrist which can radiate up into the arm and shoulder
– Tingling sensations
– Muscle weakness
– Difficulty gripping
These CTS symptoms typically occur in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and along one side of the ring finger. The little finger is usually unaffected. Symptoms often come and go, worsening after extensive use of the wrist and hands. However, it is common for carpal tunnel syndrome to worsen over time if the positioning and alignment of the affected wrist are not improved. In the most extreme cases, people with CTS may suffer permanent muscle damage and lose the ability to pinch the thumb and fingers.
The best workstations for carpal tunnel syndrome
There are several factors to consider when optimising a workstation to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Establish correct desk, chair and monitor height to improve posture
Your arms should be parallel to the floor to prevent wrist strain while working at a desk, and to protect your neck and shoulders your monitor should be at eye level so that you can see the entire screen while looking straight ahead. Monitor stands and laptop arms can be useful, and if you’re using a laptop, it is a good idea to have a separate keyboard to achieve a more comfortable typing position. An adjustable desk or sit-stand desk will help you achieve the optimum desk height for proper alignment.
You can find out how to maintain an ergonomic typing position at home here.
Protect your wrists
Wrists and hands should be in line with the forearms with elbows held close to your sides. Avoid leaning on the wrists or the heel of the hand. Wrist pads and wrist rests can help to take the pressure off the wrists, and using an ergonomic task chair with armrests will help you to keep your arms in the correct posture without straining. Ergonomic keyboards can help you to maintain an optimum typing position to reduce strain on the wrists, and you might find an ergonomic mouse helps you to avoid bending the wrist.
Keep your desk tidy
By eliminating clutter from your desk, you can avoid having to reach or slouch over your desk to reach the keyboard, mouse, or relevant documents. Organise your desk in such a way that you can easily reach the things you need without straining your arms, wrists or neck. A clear desk will also give you space to stretch out when you take short breaks from your computer, which you should be doing regularly to avoid straining the wrists.
Are sit-stand workstations the best option for those with carpal tunnel syndrome?
Since taking regular breaks is important for preventing and managing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it can be very helpful to use a sit-stand workstation which will allow you to alternate frequently between standing and sitting positions whilst working. Sit-stand desks make it really easy to raise your entire workstation within just a few seconds so that you can get your muscles and joints moving without productivity being impacted. Too much sitting is bad for your health in general, since it increases the risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, so a sit-stand desk will not only be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome but for your overall health too.
Additional tips for working with carpal tunnel syndrome
Aside from optimising your workstation, try the following to reduce your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms:
– Take short breaks every 10 to 15 minutes from repetitive activities.
– Alternate between sitting and standing or use short breaks to stand and walk around.
– Sit up straight and avoid slouching or hunching the shoulders.
– Centre your work directly in front of you.
– Use document holders to organise your workspace more efficiently.
– Try wearing wrist splints to improve the alignment of the wrists.
– Do simple wrist exercises, such as flexing the wrist backwards and forwards or squeezing a rubber ball.
When should you get professional treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome?
If you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome that won’t go away or are gradually getting worse, even after improving your workstation, visit your GP. They may recommend steroid injections or refer you to a specialist for surgical treatment if the condition is very severe.
Recommended products from CMD
At CMD, we have a range of products that could help office workers to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome or reduce the severity of their symptoms by improving their workspace:
Active Electric Sit Stand Workstation
- Instantly converts any desk into a sit-stand workstation
- 700mm x 400mm solid working surface
- Quick and easy assembly
- Comes complete with a single and double supports
- Power-assisted height adjustment
- Single option supports monitor weights up to 7kg, and the double option supports monitor weights up to 14kg
- VESA Complaint 75mm & 100mm
Vision H ergonomic workstation
- Available in white
- Range includes a single monitor support, a dual monitor support and a single monitor and laptop support
- Optional 3x power and 1x USB Type A&C charger sockets
- Includes cable management clips to secure cables to the arm and pole sections
- Supports monitors and laptops up to 5kgs (2x 5kgs when used with a dual monitor support or a single monitor and laptop support)
- Quick and easy to install
Are you currently working from home? Read our guide to preventing back, neck and wrist pain at home.
You can visit our homeworking section for a full range of homeworking products and advice.