Did you know it’s possible to injure yourself while sitting quietly at a desk, tapping away at your keyboard? Probably not. Until the other day, this idea would have been news to me, too. Then I learned about ulnar neuropathy (compression of the ulnar nerve)…the hard way.
To save you from similar discomfort, I thought I’d share my inadvertent discovery.
First, a quick anatomical lesson: The ulnar nerve runs from the cervical spine along the inside of the arm, around your elbow, and down to your hand–specifically to your pinky finger and the pinky side of your ring finger. It’s responsible for the sensation in those fingers, and for helping with motor control (particularly in gripping things).
When this nerve becomes compressed (or “pinched”), it can result in numbness, tingling, loss of motor function, and pain. In his article on A Nation in Motion, Dr. John Erickson describes it as being like “the experience of ‘hitting the funny bone’: that painful buzzing, tingling, and numb feeling in the pinky finger when you hit the wrong spot on the inside of your elbow.”
Compression can happen in a number of places along the nerve, and for a number of reasons. If you’re a cyclist, for instance, the pressure of your hand resting on the handlebars can compress the nerve either just above or just below Guyon’s canal (see image), resulting in what’s commonly referred to as handlebar palsy.
If you spend a lot of time at a desk (as do writers and students), the compression frequently occurs at the elbow and is called cubital tunnel syndrome. It’s a direct result of poor posture–or, more specifically, resting your elbow on the desk. (Turns out our mothers and teachers were right about sitting up straight…who knew? 😉 )
The current “pins and needles” sensation and numbness I’m experiencing in my pinky finger (and half–but only half–of my ring finger 😕 ) is most likely a result of cubital tunnel syndrome. Though I suspect that four marathon days of typing on my laptop’s most unergonomic keyboard–with my wrists resting on the edge–may not have helped matters. (Using a laptop now? Pay attention to where your hands are resting.) Whatever the cause, it’s darned annoying, not to mention a little unnerving. (Ha! Bad pun there…couldn’t resist…sorry. 😉 )
The good news is that the condition is usually pretty easy to remedy. An online search turned up a number of exercises designed to get things back on track and prevent recurrences–this YouTube video from chiropractor Dr. Brian Abelson is particularly helpful. I started doing those yesterday and hope to have the feeling back in my pinky soon. Very soon.
And that, my friends, is how you get injured while sitting at a desk. Want to avoid it? Sit up straight, don’t lean on your desk, make sure you use a proper wrist support for your keyboard, and do your ulnar nerve exercises. You’re welcome. 😉
P.S. For another, more serious health hazard related to long periods of sitting at a desk, check out my article on Fighting BIC Syndrome.
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