Put An End to CTS

If you are a screenprinter there is no doubt that on those long days you experience pain in your hands and wrists. You are not alone! This is a common complaint from screenprinters. Let’s discuss some ways of eliminating the pain resulting from repetitive motion.


by Bill Hood, ASDPT Fellow

Let me state upfront that this is not medical advice and should you experience pain, you should see a doctor.

Many times the pain that manual printers experience is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which is a painful condition that is caused when inflammation puts pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve is located on the palm side of your hand and is a narrow path of bone and ligament, that delivers sensation to fingers (except for the pinky) as well as impulses to the muscle leading to the thumb. The nerve is compressed when the wrist swells as a result of overuse. The nerve compression can cause tingling, numbness, or weakness usually located near the thumb in the beginning stages.

The inflammation of the wrist can be exacerbated due to an underlying medical condition. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid dysfunction the pain can be more intense. Inflammation can occur when there is an obstruction of blood flow.

If the CTS only flares up from time to time, there are some short term ways to relieve the discomfort:

On the Level

When printing manually, it is far better to keep the back of the hand on a plane with the wrist and arm. It there is any bending of the wrist, there is the potential for the onset of CTS. The best angle for a squeegee is at 4-degrees as you only want the very edge of the squeegee to come into contact with the mesh. As the angle increases the wrist will be bent, i.e. the more angle of the squeegee the more the wrist bends. Simple fix: don’t bend your wrist and place them under pressure.

Push It Away

CTS can also be exacerbated by holding your wrists in such a way that it applies unusual pressure to the median nerve. This is why many individuals capable of accepting change, have realized the effects of pushing a squeegee versus pulling the squeegee. The pushing action places less stress on the median nerve as the wrists do not bend and recommended by physicians who specialize in work-related injuries.

Take a Break

Repetitive tasks worsen CTS, especially when an extreme amount of pressure is applied to the wrists, or when the wrists are bent at an extreme or unusual angle, such as using a squeegee during printing for long hours. Taking significant breaks from the task can relieve the systems and therein lies one way to help in the reduction of CTS.

Move Away

Individuals who suffer from CTS may consider moving to another position in the company before the symptoms become too severe and surgery is needed to bring permanent relief. Short term relief can come about by alternating positions between staff members so that one person is not performing the tasks for hours on end.

Wearing a Splint

A splint on the wrist can relieve pressure on the median nerve if constructed properly. Assure that you purchase a splint made specifically for CTS. Wearing a splint when not printing can actually help, especially wearing it while you sleep. When many people sleep, they tend to bend their wrists that only add discomfort if you are already suffering from CTS. As most people sleep for about the same period as they work, wearing a splint at night is a good way to relieve some stress on the median nerve.

Non-Flexion Exercise

While it is important to minimize flexion when dealing with CTS, there are exercises that can be done without flexing the wrist. For example one of the exercises recommended by orthopedists is to assure that the back of the hand is on a plane with the arm and make a fist without bending the wrist. Then slowly open your hand until the fingers are fully extended, all without bending the wrist. Repetitions of 5 to 10 times can help alleviate the pressure on the median nerve.

Extension Exercise

Another recommended exercise is to extend the arms either to either side, directly in front of your body or raise them above your head. Here you are attempting to assure that the arm, wrist, hand, and fingers are all on the same plane and fully extended. 5 to 10 repetitions can alleviate the pressure on the median nerve.

Ice Bath or Packs

Putting your hands and wrists in an ice bath, or applying an ice pack can offer temporary relief from the discomfort, as the cold ice lowers inflammation.

Warming

Dipping the hands and wrists into warm water can temporarily relieve CTS pain.

Medical Treatment

If symptoms persist and are non-responsive to short term remedies, a doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections of cortisone, or in severe cases surgery, which involves cutting the ligament pressing on the median nerve.

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