Business Today

Curse of the keyboard

Manasi Mithel        Print Edition: Apr 1, 2012

A marketing consultant with an analytics firm, Arpita advises fast moving consumer goods companies on where to spend their marketing money. Most of this advice is rendered on mail and consultants like Arpita, who doesn't want her second name used in this story, usually spend 14 to 15 hours a day at their laptops. But she no longer does so. She stopped after she developed carpal tunnel syndrome, often caused by excessive use of the computer keyboard or mobile phone keypad. The ailment strikes the wrists and finger joints leaving the victim, in extreme cases, incapacitated from elbow to finger tips.

The syndrome is caused by Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), where ligaments around the wrist joint get stretched beyond their limit. In Arpita's case, the compression of the median nerve, which controls sensations in the thumb, index and middle fingers, caused the strain leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve runs from the forearm to the palm and is contained in a tunnel of soft muscles. The ailment can also be caused by diabetes, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Handy Tips
Keeping carpal tunnel syndrome at bay

  • Flex your thumbs against some resistance: grip and release stress buster balls
  • Flex your wrists repeatedly
  • Make a fist of your hands repeatedly
  • Crumple used paper into balls
  • Carry out appropriate yoga exercises
Arpita was diagnosed in the winter of 2010 when she was in the United States on a three-month assignment. It started with a tingling sensation in the hands, but soon turned to pain, which later grew so intense she was unable to even hold her phone. At nights, and during cold weather, the pain was at its worst.

Since then Arpita has been forced to change her personal and work habits to control the problem. "Though I love cooking, I stopped it altogether," she says. "For two months, I totally stopped typing too. Colleagues helped me out by typing for me."

She saw a physician, then a neurologist, and underwent several tests before her ailment was diagnosed. She could have undergone surgery of the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve, but chose medication and regular physiotherapy instead. It took her around eight to nine months of treatment to fully recover. But to prevent any recurrence she needs to keep exercising. "You have to continue with the advised exercises. It is not a permanent cure," she says.

"The ailment is debilitating because of the severe pain it causes," says Dr Vijay D. Shetty, Orthopaedic and Arthroscopic Surgeon at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai. Early symptoms include a constant dull ache in the wrists, tingling sensation there, and hypothesis - weakness or loss of sensation - in that region. "Any kind of work that requires the use of the thumbs is affected," he adds. Dr Shetty advises RICE - short for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation - therapy for patients, which can provide considerable relief. "The syndrome is an occupational hazard of working long hours at the keyboard. People really need to learn good ergonomics of working on their computers," he adds.

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