Women's Hands in a Meditation Pose

Repetitive stress in the hands and wrists can lead to painful and debilitating conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.1,2,3 These are progressive conditions that are often caused by frequent motions performed while working in offices, factories, and in outdoor environments.

While some hand and wrist conditions can’t be avoided, ergonomic tools, occasional breaks, and simple stretches can help workers stay comfortable and mobile for years to come.

Here is some information about how repetitive stress can lead to painful arthritic conditions of the hands and wrists and a few exercises that can help delay their onset. Just a few minutes of stretching per day can make a huge difference in one’s performance and long-term health.

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How Repetitive Stress Leads to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a passageway that provides protection for the nerves and tendons at the base of the hand, specifically the median nerve.4 One of the most common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive motions that expose the wrists to vibration, repeatedly use the fingers, and use extreme ranges of motion.1,8 Examples of common causes include repeated use of vibrating hand tools and typing on a computer keyboard. Farmers who milk cows, assembly line workers in factories, cashiers who use laser scanners, gardeners who pull weeds by hand, and musicians who use bows for stringed instruments are also at risk.

How Repetitive Stress Leads to Osteoarthritis

Similarly, repetitive stress can also lead to the onset of osteoarthritis in some people.5 This condition results when the joint cartilage is weakened, sometimes due to repetitive motions that put excess pressure on weight-bearing joints. While osteoarthritis is often associated with aging and genetics, it can be triggered by repetitive motions in a work environment as well. The joints that are most commonly affected by repetitive motion include the spine, elbows, and knees. Good posture, maintaining a healthy body weight, ergonomic devices, and arthritis pain relief creams6 like JointFlex may help workers stay pain-free and productive.

Hand and Wrist Exercises to Try

Practicing hand and wrist exercises take very little time out of a worker’s day but can be very valuable to preserve long-term functioning.7 One easy exercise to start with begins by making a fist. Then, extend the fingers out until they are straight and touching each other, and repeat ten times with each hand. As a variation, fan out the fingers after making a fist for some repetitions.

It also helps stretch out the wrists and fingers to simply shake them, in a way similar to air drying the hands after washing. For a deeper stretch, individuals can extend one arm out in front with a straight elbow, extended wrist, and fingers pointing down. Use the other hand to apply light pressure to the hand and stretch the wrist. Hold each stretch for about 20 seconds before switching hands and repeating a few times on each side.

Each of these exercises can help prevent or delay the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis caused by repetitive motions. As a general rule, practice one of these hand and wrist exercises for a minute or two each hour to maintain to good flexibility and overall wellness.

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1. Steinberg, D. R. (2018 August). Carpal tunnel syndrome. The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/hand-disorders/carpal-tunnel-syndrome.
2. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Osteoarthritis (OA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/osteoarthritis-oa.
3. Osteoarthritis of the hands. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/articles/hand-oa.php.
4. Carpal tunnel syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/.
5. Osteoarthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritis#tab-causes.
6. Osteoarthritis treatment. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/treatment.php.
7. 5 exercises to improve hand mobility. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 26, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/5-exercises-to-improve-hand-mobility-and-reduce-pain.
8. LeBlanc, K. E. & Cestia, W. (2011 April 15). Carpal tunnel Syndrome. American Family Physician, 83, 952-958. Retrieved October 26, 2018 https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0415/p952.html.