Why your wrist hurts more than usual this year
When spring and summer finally arrived after the prolonged COVID-19 quarantine, I began gardening in earnest. I turned over soil, dug deep to pull weeds, raked leaves and mowed the lawn.
I noticed that I didn’t feel as strong doing these activities as I had in the past and occasional wrist and thumb pain began to be more of a norm. Typing on my keyboard presented some challenges as well.
After some thought, I realized that, like most of us during the pandemic, I had been typing for much of the day. Emails, Facebook posts, texting, and Zoom meetings kept me in touch with the outside world. I ordered products online and cardboard boxes filled with pandemic necessities and other everyday items became weekly deliveries.
What I didn’t realize is all these activities had one thing in common and that was repetitive use of my hands and wrists that caused occasional pain and weakness.
“The repetitiveness of typing on keyboards, using the mouse, accessing our cell phones, gardening and home projects, playing golf, and tennis are the types of activities that can contribute to wrist pain,” said Brian Najarian, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Cape Cod Hospital. “One of the most common causes of wrist pain is carpal tunnel syndrome. Another cause is tendonitis; both are caused by repetitive motion.”
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed or irritated. “This can cause numbness and tingling in your hand,” he said.
Tendonitis is caused by irritation or inflammation of the tendons in the wrist, which can cause aching.
Other causes of wrist pain are trauma, fractures and arthritis.
“In our everyday world of repetitive routines, it is important to remember that our wrists and hands play a huge role in what we are able to do,” said Dr. Najarian. “A lot of people don’t think of stretching their wrists. It is a good idea to make it a part of your daily exercise routine.”
Dr. Najarian recommends the following preventive measures:
- Take breaks when doing repetitive work or other activities.
- Use ergonomic wrist positions, ergonomic keyboards and mice. There are mice filled with gel and/or memory foam for comfort and position.
- Make sure the position of your chair is appropriate and ergonomic when working on the computer.
- Use wrist guards to prevent trauma while doing sports activities, such as skateboarding or rollerblading.
- Prevent wrist injury from falls by wearing sensible shoes. Dr. Najarian sees many patients who have fallen or tripped while wearing flip flops.
- Stretch your wrists prior to doing athletic activities, such as kayaking and rowing.
He also recommends making a stress ball using a sock and rolling it up. Squeeze the ball for a few seconds and then release. He doesn’t recommend hand weights with springs as they can be too difficult for some.
“Loss of wrist strength and flexibility can be challenging when it comes to participating in our daily and recreational activities,” said Dr. Najarian. “Some of these issues ultimately need to be treated surgically, but often non-surgical treatment options can also produce equally good results. In addition to traditional therapy, there is a lot we can achieve through adaptive strategies that help our patients return to prior levels of function.”