If you think that nothing can go wrong by sitting on your desk and typing on the computer for hours, think again—if at some point you feel pain or discomfort in your wrist or palm, this may be a sign of a musculoskeletal disorder. Musculoskeletal disorders are conditions caused by the everyday wear and tear of tissues that are triggered by its repetitive use over an extended period of time. Left untreated, these eventually develop into ailments such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)—a medical condition where the median nerve finds itself compressed at the wrist.
Dr. Melissa Mercado, head of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at leading health institution Makati Medical Center, enumerates the different symptoms of CTS: “Some telltale signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include tingling or burning sensation in your hands, weakness of your thumb and decreased sensation that can make you drop things. Your wrists and hands may feel swollen although they look physically fine.”
What really causes CTS? Dr. Mercado explains that factors such as repetitive use of hands especially in awkward postures and wrist positions can trigger the condition. “A lot of young professionals discount the importance of knowing the correct hand postures when typing on the computer. They are unaware that repeatedly positioning their wrists the wrong way can have serious health repercussions,” she shares.
Apart from CTS, there are other types of musculoskeletal disorders which may affect individuals.
De Quervain's tendinitis is one. "Tendinitis" refers to the swelling of the tendons, and this particular one occurs when the tendons around the base of the thumbs get constricted or irritated. When this happens, the lining around the tendon swells and changes the shape of the compartment, making it difficult for the tendons to move as they’re designed to. The swelling can cause tenderness and pain along thumb side of the wrist, usually more noticeable when one forms a fist, when turning the wrist, or when one grips or grasps things.
More popularly known as “tennis elbow”, lateral epicondylitis is not only a condition contracted by tennis players but also by individuals who use computers and who perform a lot of typing work on a regular basis. A common cause of elbow pain, lateral epicondylitis is considered a cumulative trauma injury that occurs over time because of the repeated use of muscles in the arm and forearm, which eventually leads to small tears in the tendons. The first sign of the condition is usually pain on the outside of the elbow during or after intense use.
Cervical strain, otherwise known as neck strain, is the irritation and spasm of the upper back muscles and the neck. Unlike the relatively protected parts of spine, the cervical spine (part of the spine contained within the neck) is more vulnerable to injury being encased in a small amount of muscles and ligaments. The major cause of neck strain is physical or emotional stress; other common causes include poor posture, whiplash injury, weight and tension of large breasts, and underlying neck arthritis. Work and lifestyle habits can also contribute to the frequency of the condition, such as employing awkward positions (cradling the phone between one’s ear and shoulder), or sitting on chairs with no proper support.
Musculoskeletal disorders also include the various types of arthritis, back pain, tendonitis and musculoskeletal pain.
Dr. Mercado stresses that a particular concern are the computer typists, whose poor typing habits may find them at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders—particularly CTS. “When typing, make sure that your hands are relaxed with the wrists in neutral position,” she advises. “Prolonged periods of typing puts stress on the median nerve and the tendons crossing the wrist and palm. This leads to compression of the nerve and strain on the tendons.”
Professionals mayseek medical advice from MakatiMed’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s Office Ergonomics Program, which offers services that range from evaluation of risks, workstation analysis, and ergonomics intervention.
For more information, visit the Makati Medical Center’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at 3rd floor, Tower 2, Amorsolo St., Makati City on Mondays to Fridays, 7 am to 8 pm, and on Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You may also contact MakatiMed’s 24/7 On-Call Hotline at 8888-999 local 3330.