Carpal tunnel syndrome is a serious affliction suffered by millions of workers a year. While it often starts off with mild symptoms, carpal tunnel syndrome is a very serious disorder that can lead to severe pain and nerve damage. Those most at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome are those who have jobs that involve constant repetitive and/or static motion, particularly of the wrists, arms, and hands. While this might instantly bring office workers to mind, this problem stretches well past the basic cubicles of a call center or of a data entry center. Carpal tunnel syndrome actually afflicts more assembly line workers and grocers than computer workers. Grocery checkers are actually considered so highly at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome that even the federal government has singled them out as a group that needs support to combat this affliction.
Men are found to only be 1/3 as likely as women to have carpal tunnel syndrome. The most recognized reason for this is due to the fact that women incur muscle imbalances at a faster rate and their wrists are generally thinner, thus the carpal tunnel is smaller and so it is easier to damage the median nerve within. Work that requires constant repetition that involves flexing the fingers, or wrists, will increase your chances of carpal tunnel syndrome. Static flexion involving gripping motions such as holding power tools, gripping a steering wheel or holding a pen will also cause the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Bagging groceries and scanning all the various items, not to mention use of the cash register, is a major reason why grocery checkers are among the most highly afflicted group of workers.
Grocery checkers are so prone to carpal tunnel syndrome and similar injuries, that OSHA has specifically singled them out as a prime example of workers who need special considerations in their environment. The loss from workman's comp and lost time is enough that many employers have worked hard to introduce injury prevention programs. Many of these employers have reported happily that their efforts have actual had a positive effect on work-related injuries and workers' compensation costs. While the following advice was designed specifically for grocery checkers and grocery stores, it is equally valid for fast food, gas station or convenience store clerks, or any workers in a high volume retail environment.
Think ergonomics. What's that? Well ergonomics is basically a process by which the tools and environment around a worker or specifically designed to help take pressure off the parts of the worker's body that are going to experience the most stress. This can apply to back, shoulders, neck, but it also very commonly is used in reference to wrists and wrist injuries, especially carpal tunnel syndrome. OSHA highly recommends that all employers in retail look for ergonomic solutions, and in general the employers that have gone that route have reported seeing a positive difference. One of the main reasons why the government and employers have taken so much interest, and why it so much focus has been put on carpal tunnel syndrome in grocery checkers, is because how vital a grocery store is to every single community, and because of the huge amount of employment that these stores create.
Grocery store work can be physically demanding. It is not at all uncommon for many grocery store workers, even in small towns, to handle thousands of items every day to stock shelves, check groceries, run the register or prepare inventory. Out of all these actions, the five things to look out for when trying to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome are force, repetition, duration, awkward positions, and static postures, all which contribute to the development of muscle imbalances, the main causative factor of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Trying to find a way to do the work that cuts down on these red flags, and the occurrence of work related injuries would decrease. It is in the employer's best interest to pay attention when an employee gets an injury. There might be some people who don't think carpal tunnel syndrome is a big deal--but they would be mistaken. If an employee has carpal tunnel syndrome, then how is he or she going to do a job that requires constant hand movement, wrist movement or anything else along those lines?
Because of the way scanners are situated, and because of the job itself, there is always going to be the repetitive motions, the turning of the wrist to scan a bar code, all the little things that can cause severe carpal tunnel syndrome in workers who are keeping up a grocery store. Knowing that this is a problem, however, is the first step to dealing with it. Through ergonomics, special stretches and muscle balancing exercises, and implementing job rotation to prevent one person from doing too much of one job, carpal tunnel syndrome can be prevented, which is always better than waiting until an actual treatment is necessary.
Article by: Jeff P. Anliker, LMT and Staff