Ask Dr. Sullivan

Q. I spend a lot of my day sitting and using a computer. What can I do to make sure that I don't develop carpal tunnel syndrome?


A. One of the most important things that you can do is to make sure that your computer and desk are set up optimally. Not only will this reduce your chances of CTS but it will also help to reduce lower/upper back strain, neck strain, eye strain etc. Make sure your elbows are at a 90 degree angle with your forearms parallel to the floor. Your keyboard should fall under your fingers in this position. Make sure your monitor is high enough so that your gaze hits it without having to tilt your head up or down. Also make sure that it is directly in front of you and not off to the side. Your mouse should be at the same level as the keyboard and close enough that you don't have to reach for it. Your feet should be flat on the floor with a bend in the knees and hips of about 90 degrees. Try to keep your documents on a holder just to the side of the monitor so that you can see them without having to turn your head too much.  The diagram above helps to reiterate the things I discussed above.  

Posture is probably the most important part of the puzzle. Making sure to keep your head back and not creeping towards the monitor is crucial. Try to remember that the optimal position for your head is ears directly above the bump on top of your shoulders. Any farther forward than that and your center of gravity shifts and puts strain on the neck and shoulder muscles. Having a good lumbar support in your office chair can also be very helpful. If your chair does not have good lumbar support and a new chair is not in the budget consider rolling up a small towel and putting it behind your back. This will help to retain the natural curvature of your lumbar spine and prevent low back problems.  Taking short stretch breaks every 30 minutes is extremely important as well.  Some stretches that you can do are outlined below.

One more thing that I would like to mention is the squishy cushions that keyboards and mouse pads have that function as wrist rests. These are not beneficial and can actually accelerate CTS. They compress the wrist for long periods at a time and can cause swelling and narrowing of the carpal tunnel.

Adjustments and stretching of the neck, shoulder, elbow and wrist can be very beneficial in treating and preventing CTS as well. If you have or are concerned about CTS I would urge you to contact a chiropractor today.