The next time you jump in the car to get to work, pay attention to your hands. How do you grip the steering wheel? Do you keep your hands comfortably relaxed at 10 and 2, or do you place all of the tension in your body into your hands and wrists as you force yourself through rush hour traffic?
Your hands are some of the most complicated parts of your body. Each individual hand has 27 separate bones, joined together by connections in the joints and ligaments. Hands are sophisticated machines, able to anticipate changes in motion and guide the rest of the body to the right place.
How do your hands know how to catch a moving baseball? Or, in terms of your daily commute: how do your hands know exactly how far to turn the steering wheel so that your car can slide perfectly into that freeway gap while driving 80 miles per hour? A lot of complex processes go into hand movements that we often take for granted.
Unfortunately, the hand’s complexity also means that the hand is easily injured. Some of these injuries are straightforward; the broken finger that results after you accidentally get your hand caught in a door, for example. Others are more complex, such as the combination of tension and strain that leads to chronic pain and reduced mobility.
This brings us back to the daily commute. Over a million Americans spend more than an hour commuting in each direction. Still others are considered “megacommuters,” meaning they commute more than 90 minutes and 50 miles every morning and evening. Most of these megacommuters are located in tightly-packed urban areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, meaning their 90-minute drive is not a relaxing way to ease into the workday, but rather a stress-filled ordeal of merging, stalling, and negotiating traffic.
All of this driving takes a huge toll on the hands and wrists, especially if you are a tense driver. Pain in the hands and wrists after sustained bouts of driving is not uncommon; some people even report their hands going numb after hours spent behind the wheel. Many people develop commute-related carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of their daily drive.
How can you deal with driving-related strain, and how can you keep your hands healthy despite a tension-filled commute? To start, try to keep your grip relaxed as much as possible. Plan periodic check-ins throughout your commute; at every red light, for example, remove your hands from the steering wheel and concentrate on relaxing your muscles.
Sitting up straight can also reduce tension in your hands. Unsurprisingly, hunching forward and clenching your shoulders carries that tension straight down through your wrists and hands. Practice sitting up in a relaxed, comfortable posture, and feel how that changes the way you handle your steering wheel.
To relieve tension that has already accumulated, practice wrist and hand exercises at the beginning and end of your day. Stretch your fingers wide open, then let your hands relax. Slowly turn your wrist in every direction, feeling the muscles and joints release any tension they are currently carrying.
If you need to, you can also go to a hand specialist in your area. For example, Dr. Knight, a popular hand specialist in Los Angeles offers Stitchless Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release surgery to patients suffering from commute-related carpal tunnel syndrome. If you spend a lot of time on Los Angeles’ notorious 405 or 110 highways, you might want to keep a hand specialist in mind for that pain that just won’t go away.
Part of being a healthy voyager is ensuring you travel to and from work in the safest way possible. Don’t let your daily commute destroy your hands. Use these tips to stay safe while driving and keep your hands and wrists pain-free and relaxed.