When most people hear the words “Carpal tunnel syndrome” their mind probably conjures up images of assembly line workers, but the sad fact is that carpal tunnel syndrome effects more than 3 million Americans each year from a wide variety of industries. In fact, it was one of Alliance Rubber Company’s unique customers (one that, most likely, would never come to mind when considering carpal tunnel syndrome) who inspired us to think outside of the box to create an equally unique solution in the fight against this painful reality. But, more on that later…
Carpal tunnel syndrome begins with burning, tingling, or itching that gradually increases in strength and frequency, sufferers report feelings of numbness, weakness, and swelling even when swelling is not apparent. The “pins and needles” feelings can extend from the thumb and forefinger up the arm and sometimes can include over-all achiness in the hand, shoulder, and neck. Often, symptoms are worse at night while at rest when fluids can build up and increase pressure on the nerves. It is this pressure on the nerves of the wrist and hand that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive motions contribute to the swelling and compression that are the hallmarks of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes nerve damage and if severe enough can lead to surgery to relieve the symptoms. Recovering from this surgery can take weeks, months, or longer depending on the extent of damage. Recovery involves the use of splints and braces, and time spent in physical therapy to regain lost strength and range of motion. It is important to remember that, although surgery can effectively relieve the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel nerve damage, carpal tunnel syndrome cannot be cured. Merely half of those patients who receive surgery report satisfactory results and 25% of patients are moved to a different task at work in an effort to avoid causing re-injury to the wrist.
Making changes to lifestyle and specifically re-thinking how repetitive tasks are completed is key to minimizing the occurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome. Lifestyle changes can include consuming less salt and taking frequent breaks at work to perform stretching and resting the wrists. Work attire can incorporate fingerless gloves to keep the wrists flexible. Also, monitoring and correcting posture and position while at work can help reduce wear and tear on the body. Employers can make structural changes that will benefit everyone. These types of changes incorporate redesigning tools to benefit natural body mechanics while adapting workplace demands to reduce repetitive motion injuries. Not every workplace environment lends itself to these small changes. Sometimes, the nature of the job demands more specialized changes to equipment and job processes. Sometimes, the answer is to completely change how a job is done.
When you’re a lobsterman, the usual suggestions don’t cut it in this fast-paced, sink-or-swim line of work.
Alliance Rubber Company makes claw bands for the cold-water lobster industry and these lobstermen are struggling with the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motion of banding the lobster catch. Last year, Maine lobstermen landed nearly 120 million pounds of lobster. At two claw bands per lobster, there was a whole lot of banding going on. As a way to bring relief from the daily pain our lobster band customers experience, Alliance Rubber Company has been collaborating with a respected machine engineering and manufacturing firm to produce a lobster banding machine. This machine will drastically cut the need to band lobster claws by hand, thus, eliminating the exposure to the repetitive motion leading to carpal tunnel syndrome in this line of work. In this small way, lobster fishermen can focus on the catch without the pain and distraction caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.
The engineering team at Alliance wanted to fully understand the impact of carpal tunnel syndrome within the lobster fishing industry. It is for this reason that the team spent an extensive amount of time on research which led to the development of our innovative banding machine. We have compiled the information from a number of published medical studies on this very topic and created a white paper: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The Lobsterman’s Painful Reality. This document is available to view and download here.