The Wrist: Few Bones—Huge Impact

The Wrist: Few Bones—Huge Impact

From Falls to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

One of the most vulnerable joints in the human body is the wrist. A wrist has eight small bones (carpal bones) connected to the two long forearm bones. Such a small area of the body can make a large impact on wrist or hand fractures, falls, or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Prevent Falls; Walk Like a Penguin

walking penguinsWhen you slip and fall, it is instinctive to reach out and try to stop the fall. “The bone near the base of the thumb is the one that is commonly injured,” said Dr. Jennifer Taniguchi, Orthopedic Surgeon. “In the winter, especially, it is important to try and prevent falls that could lead to broken bones.”

For your safety, go slow when outdoors in the winter and “walk like a penguin”— keep your center of balance over your feet, bend slightly, and walk flat-footed. Take short, shuffling steps as you watch where you step and concentrate on maintaining balance. Do not wear smooth-soled footwear or slippery boots. Ice cleats that strap onto your boots or shoes also provide safer footing on snow and ice.

If you start to fall, do not break the fall with your hand—it will cause a sprain or break. Protect your head by tucking your chin and wrapping your arms around your head, pulling your body into itself. Then, try to roll and exhale as you hit so your body can absorb the impact.

If you are concerned about your risk of falling, ask your doctor to assess your risk. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to assist you in becoming steadier on your feet.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

With so many jobs requiring keyboarding, retail checkout, or other repetitive tasks, a common wrist condition is carpal tunnel syndrome.

Dr. Taniguchi explains, “Surrounded by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is located in the palm of your hand. When you apply pressure to the median nerve, it can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in your hand or arm. So, if the median nerve is irritated or squeezed, carpal tunnel syndrome may result.” Repetitive motions can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as your wrist’s anatomy, or other health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition to anatomy, risk factors in getting carpal tunnel syndrome include gender (the carpal tunnel is often smaller in women). Other causes include nerve damage, inflammatory conditions, medication, obesity, and work tasks that cause pressure on the median nerve.

To alleviate discomfort and irritation of your carpal tunnel condition, try to minimize stress on your nerve. Relax how you grip a pen or strike a keyboard, take breaks and stretch, keep your keyboard at elbow height or lower, and change your computer mouse on the affected hand.

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome ranges from splinting to ibuprofen, a prescription medication for inflammation, or even surgery if your symptoms are severe. Start with an appointment with your doctor or nurse practitioner for an examination and options for care.

If you’re injured – whether a break or strain from a fall or repetitive use – talk to your doctor to decide the next steps in regaining wrist mobility and use without pain or discomfort.