As If! Carpal Tunnel and the 20-something…

Because seriously… I can’t make this shit up…

As I sit here typing this, I still cannot believe that I am actually writing about carpal tunnel in the 20 something girl. It seems surreal, as your twenties are the times when you (should) be establishing or have already establish a good level of health. My good friend Mackenzie and I always joked that the human body is made only to last about 40 years in good health, so if you’re active really that number drops down to 20. And until recently, we did not know how right we were… at least concerning the two of us.

I am well aware of the fact that there is a distinct difference between having pain in your wrist and having carpal tunnel. I subscribe to the first definition; my left wrist (as in my non-dominant hand) was strained due to my over-zealousness in a yoga class… oh and from years of being a keeper in soccer… right along the ulnar nerve. So along my pinkie-line there is random pain that really is all my fault. The reality that I continue to use my left hand for everything except writing does not help the fact, thus my wrist injury can be written off as a “repetitive strain injury”, or RSI. Mackenzie, however, was and is not that lucky. I know that she had been mentioning pain in her wrist for the longest time, and although I advised her to see a doctor we both dismissed the idea of anything more serious because really, we’re 21! We are both relatively fit, practice yoga and do a bit of cardio… So imagine the surprise when a doctor, a trained professional, told her that she “definitely” has carpal tunnel in her wrist.

FYI: Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve (running from the forearm into the hand) becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. This nerve controls sensations to the supine position (ie up, because in supine you can hold a cup of soup!) of the thumb and fingers but not the pinky, as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The actual carpal tunnel, a narrow rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand houses the median nerve and tendons. When these ligaments become thickened from irritated tendons or swelling in general the tunnel narrows and compresses this nerve. The result may be pain, weakness or numbness in the hand, wrist and sometimes up to the arm.

Besides the annoyance of having to purchase and wear a 40$ brace (mine was 12$) at night and during classes to stave away the pain, the truth about her condition really had me and still has me stunned. From what I know, CT usually only occurs in adults, and although I know 21 is considered “adult”, CT is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of an average 21 year old. CT is more common in older women and those who do repetitive assembly line work, such as seamstresses, warehouses, manufacturing etc… So knowing this I can’t help but wonder; where does a 21 year old pick up carpal tunnel?

The first and most obvious theory would be technology. At school Mackenzie sits behind her iMac in lecture, at home, and wherever she takes her baby with her. I remember back in grade 4 learning how to use a computer, you know, one of those old-school Apples with a tiny screen and 2D graphics? Was that the beginning of the end? Did all those recess’ spent playing “The Oregon Trail” put me on a path (so to speak) of weak ligaments and pinched nerves at the ripe old age of 21? Granted the introduction of computers to my grade school open my eyes to the wonders of technology, but did it also open my joints and ligaments to the repetitive strain normally reserved for those who have progressed further in life who, for lack of a better description, have earned their aches and pains over the years? Considering many people with CT have worked for 10 or 20 odd years behind either a typewriter or a computer, and both Mackenzie and I are stuck in 9-5 office jobs only to return home to our beloved laptops to Facebook and MSN our time away… could the advent of modern technology be behind our frail and weak joints?

That answer, like many that quick and unthought-of, simply cannot be true. A study done in 2001 done by the Mayo Clinic found that so called “heavy” computer use, up to 7 hours a day did NOT increase a person’s risk of developing CT. Mackenzie’s mother, along with my mother and father and many of our senior colleagues have been using a computer for longer than we have been alive, and none so far have been diagnosed with CT. The advent of ergonomic keyboards and mouse pads, the research going into prevention of CT cannot be ignored, nor can the non-prevalence of CT in our more mature colleagues.

Anyway, what is even worse than being diagnosed with CT is the expectation that because we are young we can “suck it up” or “deal” with the pain thanks to the supposed infallibility of our youth. Erm… no. Just because we are young doesn’t mean we do not feel pain, and since we’re going to be around a bit longer means that we should take every precaution to take care of our bodies. I found it funny how the “adults” in my life often remind me that I am not invincible, that I cannot get away with 3 hours of sleep, unhealthy food and lack of vitamins… however when it comes to legitimate pain such as CT we’re expected to “suck it up” and stop complaining… So really, what’s the deal?

It would be too easy to blame work and school for the onset of Mackenzie’s CT; as she said, her work is not paying her enough for her to ruin her body, especially for a twenty something girl who now has the ligament-annoyances of a forty year old woman. I am still at a loss for poor Mackenzie and her mysterious affliction of CT, but if you will excuse me, all this typing is making my wrist hurt.

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~ by Carrie on August 1, 2006.

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