Carpal tunnel syndrome (sometimes just referred to as carpal tunnel) has long been associated with hours of typing on a computer or other repetitive hand movements. It involves compression of the median nerve, which is located in the wrist. However, as people spend more time texting and emailing on their phones as part of their workday, tendonitis of the wrist and thumbs caused by overuse is becoming even more common. People who use American Sign Language (ASL) frequently, such as interpreters and teachers, can develop either of these conditions.
Both conditions can be painful and debilitating unless they’re treated properly. Carpal tunnel typically causes wrist pain. It can also cause numbness in the fingers and palms, pain and tightness in the wrists, hands and forearms and even itching, burning or swelling. Tendonitis can have the same symptoms as carpal tunnel, but they usually develop more gradually. The pain of tendonitis is typically just above the tendon(s) affected.
Tendonitis can usually be more easily avoided than carpal tunnel. If you have the kind of job where your “office” is wherever you happen to be and you need to text or email all day on your phone, switch to voice-to-text as much as possible. When you don’t need to be available via phone, put it away.
The good news is that both conditions are treatable. Rather than trying to diagnose yourself, it’s best to see a hand specialist who can determine which condition you have. Treatment can range from exercises or physical therapy to steroid injections to – in more severe cases – surgery.
Since both carpal tunnel and tendonitis can be caused or at least exacerbated by things you may do outside of work in addition to work-related activities, it can be challenging to get workers’ compensation to cover your treatment and any lost work time. If you’re having difficulty obtaining workers’ comp, an experienced attorney can be a valuable source of information and guidance.