Can you get carpal tunnel syndrome working in manufacturing?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS), a potentially debilitating condition that affects millions worldwide, is often associated with jobs that involve lots of computer use. However, the condition significantly impacts those who work in manufacturing, too.
Sandra Hardee, MD, spoke about carpal tunnel syndrome and the unique set of challenges it presents for workers and employers in manufacturing.
The basic facts on carpal tunnel syndrome
“Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome usually happens after someone reports symptoms like tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and wrists,” said Dr. Hardee. “CTS occurs due to repetitive or strenuous tasks being commonplace. That’s why manufacturing jobs often raise your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome significantly.”
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist formed by bones and ligaments. The median nerve and tendons pass through this passageway and usually are not compressed, but the available space can narrow as a result of repetitive hand movements, forceful gripping or underlying medical conditions. This puts pressure on the median nerve, which leads to the symptoms commonly associated with CTS.
Which manufacturing tasks are most likely to raise the risk of CTS?
“Work that involves an assembly line poses a risk of having employees struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome,” said Dr. Hardee. “Think workplace activities like tightening screws, operating machinery or repetitive packaging tasks. All of these place a constant strain on the wrist and hands.”
Other risk factors include vibration exposure from equipment used by employees, awkward wrist and hand positions required to perform job duties, repeated forceful gripping and inadequate ergonomics to help minimize compression of the median nerve.
What can manufacturers do to lessen the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome?
“There are several measures that manufacturers must take to lessen carpal tunnel syndrome cases among their existing workforce,” said Dr. Hardee. “In my view, manufacturers should act proactively to prevent cases in the first place.”
Measures recommended by Dr. Hardee include:
- Ergonomic workstations: Reducing awkward postures and properly supporting the wrists can prevent CTS.
- Training: Provide workers with training on proper hand and wrist techniques.
- Rotation of tasks: Rotating workers through different tasks can reduce prolonged exposure to repetitive motions.
- Use of ergonomic tools: Investing in ergonomic tools and equipment can significantly reduce the strain on workers’ hands.
- Regular breaks: Encouraging short, frequent breaks can give workers a chance to rest their hands and wrists.
- Early intervention: Promptly addressing any symptoms of CTS early is crucial to prevent its progression.
Prevent carpal tunnel syndrome in your workforce
“CTS can significantly affect workers’ lives,” said Dr. Hardee. “It often begins with what appear to be mild tingling and numbness in the fingers, but if untreated and without any changes in the environment to prevent progression, it can cause severe pain and weakness which becomes debilitating.”
CTS in your workforce can lead to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism or even job loss for the individuals affected. Even simply dealing with the pain day-in and day-out can take a toll on their mental health and well-being, leading to stress and anxiety affecting both their work and life at home.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome in manufacturing isn’t something to shrug off,” said Dr. Hardee. “It’s a pressing issue that affects workers’ well-being and an employer’s productivity. Implementing preventive measures and fostering a culture of focus on safety and well-being not only reduces the incidence of CTS itself and reduces potential health care costs, but it also helps to create a healthier work environment for employees overall. That’s not just good for workers – it’s great for the bottom line, too.”
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