In the digital age, many of us are spending extended periods in front of computer screens. This increased technology usage can lead to a host of physical discomforts, with one of the most common being ‘computer elbows’. Also known as mouse elbow or cubital tunnel syndrome, this condition is a repetitive strain injury that can cause significant pain and discomfort. In this blog post, we will delve into the different computer elbow treatment options and also a few strategies to prevent it.
What Causes Computer Elbow?
“Computer elbow,” also known as cubital tunnel syndrome or “mouse elbow,” is a type of repetitive strain injury (RSI). It is often caused by prolonged and improper use of computer devices. Particularly the mouse and keyboard.
The main cause of computer elbow is the repetition of a specific activity or motion involving the arm and wrist. This puts pressure on the nerve that runs from the neck to the hand (the ulnar nerve). In addition to this, poor ergonomic practices contribute significantly to the onset of computer elbow. This includes poor posture (like hunching over your computer), and improper keyboard and mouse placement. And not taking regular breaks to stretch and move around.
Here are some specific actions that might lead to computer elbow:
- Resting your elbow on a hard surface for a long period of time. This can put pressure on the ulnar nerve.
- Using a mouse that is too high, too low, or too far away causes extra strain on your arm and wrist.
- Extensive typing, especially if your keyboard is at an improper height or angle.
- Holding a phone between your ear and shoulder can strain your neck, shoulder, and arm muscles.
It’s important to note that while these actions are common among computer users, anyone who performs a repetitive motion with their arm or wrist could potentially develop a computer elbow. This includes musicians, athletes, and manual laborers.
How Do You Stretch Your Computer Elbow?
Stretching your arm and elbow is an effective way to alleviate the symptoms of computer elbow and prevent the condition from developing in the first place. Here are a few stretches that can help:
Elbow Bend Stretch
Stand up straight and lower your affected arm to your side. Bend your arm at the elbow, bringing your hand up so it touches your shoulder. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly straighten your arm again. Repeat this exercise a few times each day.
Wrist Flexor Stretch
Extend your arm in front of you with your palm up. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist until your fingers are pointing down toward the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch on the inside of your forearm. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat a few times on each side.
Wrist Extensor Stretch
This is similar to the wrist flexor stretch but in the opposite direction. Extend your arm with your palm facing down. Use your other hand to gently bend your wrist so your fingers are pointing towards the floor. You should feel the stretch on the outside of your forearm. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat a few times on each side.
Pronation and Supination of the Forearm
Hold your arm at a right angle with your thumb pointing upwards. Rotate your forearm so your thumb turns to face you, then turns to face away from you. You can also hold a lightweight (like a water bottle) in your hand while doing this exercise to increase the stretch.
Nerve Gliding Exercises
These are specific exercises designed to help the nerves move through the tissues more easily. For the ulnar nerve (the one affected by computer elbow), try this: make a fist, then bend your elbow to bring your fist towards your shoulder. Straighten your elbow and open your hand so your fingers are pointing straight up, then bend your wrist so your fingers point towards you. Finally, tilt your head away from the affected arm. You should feel a gentle stretch along your arm and elbow. Repeat a few times each day.
Always remember to keep these stretches gentle and controlled; you should never feel pain. If you do, stop the stretch immediately.
What Are Some Computer Elbow Treatment Options?
Computer elbow treatment (also known as cubital tunnel syndrome or mouse elbow) usually begins with conservative, non-surgical methods. If these methods do not relieve the symptoms, or if the condition is severe, surgical treatment may be considered. Here are some common medical treatments for computer elbow:
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can teach you exercises to improve flexibility and strength and to reduce pressure on the ulnar nerve. These might include nerve gliding exercises, which can help the ulnar nerve move smoothly through the cubital tunnel.
- Medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Braces or Splints: These are used to keep your arm in a position that reduces the pressure on the nerve, especially while you sleep. They can also remind you to avoid positions that cause symptoms.
- Corticosteroid Injections: For some people, corticosteroid injections can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. However, these injections are used cautiously because they can cause damage to the nerve.
- Cubital Tunnel Release: This surgery involves cutting and dividing the ligament roof of the cubital tunnel to increase the size of the tunnel and decrease pressure on the nerve.
- Ulnar Nerve Anterior Transposition: In this procedure, the nerve is moved from its place behind the elbow to a new position in front of the elbow. This can prevent the nerve from getting caught on the bony ridge. And stretching when you bend your elbow.
- Medial Epicondylectomy: This involves removing a part of the medial epicondyle, the bony bump on the inside of the elbow. And to prevent the nerve from getting caught on it.
As with any medical condition, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and determine the best treatment plan for you. In many cases, changing your computer habits and performing regular stretches can help manage or prevent computer elbow.
What Are Some Prevention Strategies?
Preventing computer elbow treatment involves a combination of good ergonomics, regular breaks, and exercises. Here are some strategies that can help:
Improve Your Workspace Ergonomics
- Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level so you don’t have to constantly look down.
- Position your keyboard so your arms are parallel to the floor when typing.
- Use a mouse that fits comfortably in your hand and does not require a lot of force to click.
- Consider using a wrist rest or an ergonomic keyboard, which can help keep your wrists in a neutral position.
- Use a chair with armrests to support your elbows and forearms.
Take Regular Breaks
- Every hour, take a few minutes to stand up, stretch, and walk around.
- Use your break to do some simple arm and wrist stretches.
Practice Good Posture
- Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed when you’re at your computer.
- Avoid leaning on your elbow or keeping your elbow bent for long periods.
Perform Regular Exercises
- Regular physical activity helps keep your muscles strong and flexible.
- Incorporate specific arm and wrist exercises into your routine to help prevent computer elbow.
Limit Device Use
- Try to limit the amount of time you spend on your devices each day.
- Consider using voice-to-text or other technologies to reduce the need for typing.
Remember, it’s always better to prevent a condition like a computer elbow than to treat it after it’s developed. By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing computer elbow.
In conclusion, computer elbow treatment options are numerous and varied, they can help manage the condition effectively. And even prevented with the right strategies. By focusing on good ergonomics, taking regular breaks, and incorporating suitable exercises into your daily routine, you can safeguard your elbow health. If symptoms still persist, various non-surgical and surgical computer elbow treatment options are available to alleviate the condition.
Remember, your physical well-being is just as important as your digital productivity. So, take the necessary steps to combat computer elbow and maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle both on and off the keyboard. If you’re experiencing Elbow pain, physical therapy for elbow pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.