Fishermen Wellness: Carpal Tunnel
There are many motions that fishermen repeat over and over that have the potential to cause longer-term issues if they are not well-managed. Things like squeezing a clip gun, bending wire, mending a net, cutting fish, and even squeezing a bander, require the same movement and muscle tension over and over. Sometimes this simply causes some inflammation that can be managed with ibuprofen, other times it seems like the pain and tension might never subside.
Carpal tunnel is a common condition that can cause numbness, tingling, pain in the hand or forearm, and even burning and clumsiness. The condition occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand — the median nerve — is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.
To try and prevent (or stave off) carpal tunnel, you can minimize repetitive use, reduce your force (don't squeeze so hard), alternate between activities, or avoid holding an object the same way for too long. Regular strength training and mobility exercises can also help reduce the potential of developing carpal tunnel.
If you find yourself with numbness or tingling in your wrist and hands, the first step should be to check in with your doctor or to make an appointment with a physical therapist to get a confirmed diagnosis. A physical therapist can also help you find a wrist brace that can alleviate discomfort.
Simple stretches, like the one pictured on the right, can also help stave off or alleviate pain associated with carpal tunnel. Doing a simple stretch like this one throughout your day (even when you're not working) can help make sure you're able to keep fishing (with less pain).
Unfortunately, sometimes surgery is necessary. If your symptoms are unbearable, continue for 6-12 months, or worsen even if you are stretching and trying to reduce pain, your doctor may recommend that you consider surgery. But most doctors will recommend 6-12 months of treatments before suggesting surgery - so don't avoid the doctor because you're worried they are going to tell you to stop fishing. Recovery time after carpal tunnel surgery is only about 1-3 months.
Other things that are important to consider: staying warm on cold days can help alleviate joint and muscle stiffness, staying hydrated also helps, and making sure your body has the right vitamins and nutrients (a balanced diet!).
Holding onto hand tools (or snow blowers!) for extended periods of time and even texting can also make carpal tunnel symptoms worse, but the good news is, knowing what causes and increases carpal tunnel complications can help you alleviate pain. And, stay consistent! If you have signs of carpal tunnel, and find that doing a few things helps alleviate those symptoms, keep doing them even when you feel better.
Prevention is better than cure, and helps you keep fishing!
Monique Coombs, MCFA's Director of Community Programs, is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. Monique manages MCFA's Fishermen Wellness program, which includes blog posts like this one about health and wellness.
You can see more Fishermen Wellness blogs here and more about maintaining physical health at FishAbility. (FishAbility is part of the University of Maine's AgraAbility Program and its mission is to work with fishermen whose productivity has been impacted by chronic illness or injury.)