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Wrist Care: Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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If you spend a lot of time doing activities that involve forceful or repetitive hand or wrist movement or use of vibrating equipment, you have an increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. These activities can include driving, working with small instruments, knitting, or using a sander. You can reduce your risk—and any hand pain or weakness you may already have—by taking a few simple steps.

Key points

  • Many health conditions and diseases make you more likely to get carpal tunnel symptoms. But if you exercise, stay at a healthy weight, control other health conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, and avoid smoking, you can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Arranging your activity and work space using ergonomic guidelines can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Office ergonomics focuses on how a workstation is set up, including the placement of your desk, computer monitor, paperwork, chair, and associated tools, such as a computer keyboard and mouse. The same ideas can help you arrange your position for other daily activities.
  • Proper body mechanics are key to preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Evaluate your daily routine for activities that increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Take frequent breaks from activities to rest, stretch, change positions, or alternate with another activity.

You can find more information about carpal tunnel syndrome in these topics:

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a specific group of symptoms including tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the fingers, thumb, or hand and sometimes spreading up the arm. These symptoms occur when there is pressure on the median nerve, which runs through the wrist's carpal tunnel to the hand. Long-term pressure on the median nerve can cause permanent nerve damage. See a picture of carpal tunnel syndromeClick here to see an illustration. anatomy.

Carpal tunnel syndrome usually responds well to preventive care and nonsurgical treatment, including rest from problem activities, ice, a wrist splint for use at night, and possibly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation. The earlier you take action, the better the chances of relieving the symptoms and preventing permanent median nerve damage. If your symptoms continue after about 2 weeks of home treatment or are severe, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe specific exercises or stronger anti-inflammatory medicine. A physical therapist or occupational therapist can help you with exercises and changing your body mechanics. Surgery is usually reserved for severe, disabling carpal tunnel syndrome that hasn't responded to months of treatment.

This information focuses on things that you can control during daily activity.

Test Your Knowledge

Carpal tunnel syndrome may be painful, but it can't cause permanent damage.


When the wrists are bent, the carpal tunnel narrows and can press on the median nerve. This is especially likely when the tunnel is already narrowed by swelling.

Common movements, positions, or conditions that put pressure on the median nerve include:

  • Repetitive movement of the fingers or wrist.
  • Prolonged or repeated bending of the wrist, particularly using the hand to support weight or apply pressure.
  • Prolonged vibrating of the hand, as when using a power tool.
  • Swelling in the wrist area. This can be from carpal tunnel syndrome inflammation, which perpetuates the median nerve effects, or from fluid retention. Carpal tunnel syndrome is common during later pregnancy, when women tend to retain fluid.

Monitoring your body mechanics is key in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Test Your Knowledge

Even if you don't use tools such as vibrating equipment or a keyboard very much, it's smart to be careful about your body mechanics.


Don't wait till you have symptoms to take preventive measures. Increase your awareness of how you use your hands and equipment throughout the day, and make some changes. Many different kinds of activity can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Use this picture of an ergonomically correct workstation setup and postureClick here to see an illustration. to adjust your working environment and how you use it. You can also use this diagram to help you set up other work areas, such as where you do your hobbies or work with hand tools.

When setting up your work area:

  • Center your work in front of you, as low as possible without touching your legs (your forearms are parallel to the floor or slightly lowered). If you work while standing, have your work surface at about waist height.
  • Keep your hands and wrists in line with your forearms. For example, if you work at a keyboard, tilt it to help keep this alignment. See pictures of proper hand and wrist positionClick here to see an illustration. for examples of good wrist position for manual tasks.
  • Hold your elbows close to your sides.
  • Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand or your wrist.
  • Take little breaks every 10 to 15 minutes. Use a reminder alarm if needed.
  • Do stretching exercisesClick here to see an illustration. every 20 to 60 minutes.

Consider trying a different tool or grip. Many people benefit from using a split, V-shaped keyboard. If possible, try one for at least a week. One style may work well for you while another doesn't. When using other equipment, try changing the way you hold the tool. You may also be able to switch hands now and then when using some tools.

Consider trying wrist splints. If you have carpal tunnel symptoms and have trouble training your wrists to stay straight, try wearing wrist splints for temporary relief. Wrist splints are not meant to be worn over a long period of time. But wearing them whenever you are sleeping can help you manage carpal tunnel syndrome over the long term. See a picture of a wrist splintClick here to see an illustration..

Test Your Knowledge

I don't have any hand pain, numbness, or weakness, so I don't need to bother about doing activities the "right" way.


After I've made the right adjustments to my activity or work area, all I have to do is watch my posture, take occasional breaks, and stretch a few times a day.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to take preventive measures during your daily activities. If you have further questions about office ergonomics or your medical condition, contact an ergonomic specialist or your doctor.

If you would like to find more information on carpal tunnel syndrome or ergonomics, try these resources:


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Phone: 1-800-352-9424
Phone: (301) 496-5751
TDD: (301) 468-5981
Web Address:

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, is the leading U.S. federal government agency supporting research on brain and nervous system disorders. It provides the public with educational materials and information about these disorders.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
6300 North River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018-4262
Phone: (847) 823-7186
Fax: (847) 823-8125
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) provides information and education to raise the public's awareness of musculoskeletal conditions, with an emphasis on preventive measures. The AAOS website contains information on orthopedic conditions and treatments, injury prevention, and wellness and exercise.

American College of Rheumatology
2200 Lake Boulevard NE
Atlanta, GA 30319
Phone: (404) 633-3777
Fax: (404) 633-1870
Web Address:

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ARHP, a division of ACR) are professional organizations of rheumatologists and associated health professionals who are dedicated to healing, preventing disability from, and curing the many types of arthritis and related disabling and sometimes fatal disorders of the joints, muscles, and bones. Members of the ACR are physicians; members of the ARHP include research scientists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, and social workers. Both the ACR and the ARHP provide professional education for their members.

The ACR website offers patient information fact sheets about rheumatic diseases, about medicines used to treat rheumatic diseases, and about care professionals.

American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane, P.O. Box 31220
Bethesda, MD 20824-1220
Phone: (301) 652-2682
Fax: (301) 652-7711
TDD: 1-800-377-8555
Web Address:

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the nationally recognized professional association of approximately 35,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students of occupational therapy. AOTA's mission is to advance the quality, availability, use, and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research on behalf of its members and the public.

American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH)
6300 North River Road
Suite 600
Rosemont, IL 60018-4256
Phone: (847) 384-8300
Fax: (847) 384-1435
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

ASSH is a professional organization of hand surgeons that provides education to the public about hand problems, such as Dupuytren's disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow. ASSH also provides education about surgery, preventive tips to keep your hands safe, and an online tool to find a hand surgeon.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHerbert von Schroeder, MD, MSc, FRCSC - Hand and Microvascular Surgery
Last RevisedOctober 2, 2012

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