“Repeated, prolonged gripping of anything – whether it’s a steering wheel or a tool – can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome,” said Jennifer Valle, occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “There are activities you can do and modifications you can make to help alleviate the risk of developing carpal tunnel.”
For example, drivers should keep their hands in line with their elbows while behind the wheel. They also should hold their wrists straight.
“If you imagine the steering wheel as a clock, the best position to put your wrist in would actually be at three o’clock and nine o’clock,” Valle explains.
Drivers using cell phones while commuting often hold the phones with bent wrists, which can lead to carpal tunnel over time. Experts encourage these drivers to get an earpiece or headset to avoid physically holding the phone. Of course, the safest practice may be to turn off the phone entirely while driving. (See Danger Ahead! Cell Phones and Driving for more information.)
Experts say most people who already have developed carpal tunnel symptoms can reverse them by making simple changes. Wrist splints, for example, can be just as effective for commuters as they are for typists. These splints, which can be found in most pharmacies, force the wrist to remain in a straight position and can be beneficial for drivers who spend long hours behind the wheel.
“A lot of times patients will come back and say ‘I’m having fewer symptoms,’ and that the activity modifications are working,” adds Valle.