Medical Transcription and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Because they spend so much time keyboarding, medical transcriptionists are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a painful and debilitating hand condition that results from a pinched nerve in the wrist.

When caught early, the symptoms usually can be reversed, but if left untreated, permanent impairment can result. It’s important to understand how CTS occurs so you can avoid it, or at least quickly recognize and react to any symptoms.

The carpal tunnel is a space between your wrist (carpal) bones and the major ligament that binds them together on the palm side of your wrist — right about where your wrists may rest on the edge of your desk or keyboard tray if you let them.

The median nerve, which conveys signals back and forth to your hand, passes through it, along with a bunch of tendons that allow you to flex your fingers. If something causes the tunnel to narrow, most often swelling of the surrounding tissues, the median nerve can get compressed and CTS symptoms start. Typical symptoms include

  • A vague aching in the wrist

  • Tingling or numbness in your fingers or hand, especially the index, middle, and ring fingers

  • Pain radiating to your hand and arm, especially on the palm side

The primary thing you can do to prevent CTS is to follow standard ergonomic guidelines, especially as they relate to keeping your wrists in line with your forearms. Don’t rest your wrists on a hard surface such as the edge of your keyboard tray or desk.

Give your hands and wrists frequent breaks by taking your fingers off the keyboard and gently stretching your hands and wrists. Try not to pound on the keys — just tap on them instead.

Some transcriptions find that wearing light gloves that provide a bit of protection and wrist support helps prevent and alleviate symptoms, although it can be tricky to find gloves that do that without also impeding your typing ability.

If you start to develop CTS symptoms, that doesn’t mean your medical transcription career is doomed. Go see a healthcare provider, who will assess the severity of your CTS, probably recommend that you wear wrist splints at night, and help you determine how to proceed from there.

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