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Beware of carpal tunnel syndrome

Doctors advise cyclists to rest their wrists occasionally while riding


Thirty-five-year-old Park rides a bicycle to work every day. He started to commute by bike in March and his mileage so far tops 10,000 kilometers.

In the beginning, things seemed to progress smoothly. He lost weight and felt healthier. But recently, he began experiencing numbness around his wrists. The pain grew so severe and so quickly that he could not even move his hands at times. He was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

The syndrome is associated with frequent burning, tingling, itching or numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb, index and middle fingers. Some sufferers say their fingers feel useless and swollen, even though little to no swelling is apparent.
Health experts say that long bicycle rides without a break could cause carpal tunnel syndrome.(Yonhap News)
Health experts say that long bicycle rides without a break could cause carpal tunnel syndrome.(Yonhap News)

As symptoms worsen, people might feel tingling during the day. Decreased grip strength may make it difficult to clench a fist, grasp small objects or perform other manual tasks. In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away. In severe cases, people are unable to tell between hot and cold.

The syndrome was found mostly among office workers using computers for a long period of time, coiffeurs, cooks and housewives who repeatedly use a particular part of their wrists over certain period of time.

Guro TnTn Hospital surveyed a total of 5,401 visitors to the hospital between May and September to find that 169 were bike riders aged from their 20s to 60s. They normally visited the doctor on Mondays, right after the weekend when they rode bicycles for long periods of time.

“People hold the bike handles for leisure, but doing so for up to five hours gives a lot of stress to the wrists because they have to be bent in a fixed direction. This could cause a severe health problem because the numbness could spread to the shoulder and other parts of the body,” said Dr. Song Eun-sung, head of TnTn Hospital.

He advised bike buffs to take time and allow their wrists to rest occasionally while riding.

“Do not ride a bike without a break. During the break, move your wrists as much as you can. After riding, either massage the hands and wrists for 20-30 minutes or apply a hot towel around those parts,” he said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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