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Health hotline: Ergonomics, exercise and proper movement can prevent hand, wrist injury

Published: Friday, Sept. 7 2012 2:56 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — To prevent unexpected injury to the hand, wrist and elbow, doctors and therapists recommend maintaining proper movement and overall health.

Exercise, as with many ailments, can be beneficial and improve symptoms.

"But, if something is hurting, you should get evaluated and have that discussion with the doctor," said Dr. Patrick Olson, an orthopedic surgeon at Intermountain Healthcare's The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital and the Park City Medical Center. He said patients with the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome may be able to change its course with a few healthy habits.

"When symptoms start, they're not, for the most part, able to be reversed. But personally, I think it is possible," he said. "Diet, nutrition and lifestyle factor into all kinds of conditions."

He hopes to research the effects of exercise on carpal tunnel and certain arthritis conditions in the future.

Jackie Schmidt, an occupational certified hand therapist at The Orthopedic Specialty Clinic, also said overall strength and dexterity can make a difference.

In cases where pain already exists, she said splints can offer protection to the joints.

"People try to avoid using it because of pain, but think about not using your thumb or hand, it's nearly impossible," Schmidt said. "You can't turn a doorknob or reach for something because it hurts to bring the thumb into that position."

Ergonomics, she said, play a big part in proper movement of the upper extremities and other parts of the body. Many corporations employ specialists to help with correct set-up of a work station, but when that is not available, Schmidt said the information is available online.

When working at a desk, she said elbows should be bent at a 70- to 80-degree angle, hands should sit a little lower than the elbow, wrists slightly flexed or bent down while typing, the top edge of a computer monitor should be at eye level and the worker's chair should be at a height where feet can be firmly planted, flat on the floor. A head piece should be used if phone use is a significant part of the job, Schmidt said.

"It also helps to avoid the activities that cause you pain," Olson said, adding that avoidance is difficult for professional athletes, whose livelihood depends upon participation in certain sports or activities.

"But I would rather not do a procedure on you, I'd rather you'd make the choice to change the behavior that is hurting you," he said. "It's best to keep healthy overall. Exercise and eating right can be beneficial to your heart, lungs and mental health. But it also affects your musculoskeletal health."

Olson and Schmidt will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline, where they will take questions from the public on the diagnosis and treatment of elbow, forearm and hand injuries. From 10 a.m. until noon, anyone interested is welcome to call 1-800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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