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Mariah's avatar

Can I cause nerve damage in my hands from gripping something very hard for extended periods of time?

Asked by Mariah (25863points) February 15th, 2016

My latest hobby is woodcarving. I’m loving it, but it’s hard on the hands even when I’m not slipping up and accidentally cutting myself. For the last few hours, my left hand has been gripping a block of wood, with the edges of the block digging into my palm, while my right hand has been gripping the wooden handle of my carving knife. I just took a break to vacuum up all my wood shavings, and I kept getting shooting tingling feelings in my fingers while gripping the vacuum handle, similar to the feeling you get in your arm when you bump your elbow just the wrong way. My hands are sore in the spots that receive the most pressure: the thumb that presses on the back of the knife blade, a few spots on the palm where the wood block digs in.

Can I cause nerve damage over the long term if this remains a hobby of mine? Are there measures I can take to protect my hands?

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22 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Just take breaks more often I think. Also, look into some sort of vice you can use to keep it steady while you work on it. I don’t know much about woodcarving, but maybe there are options.

I did really answer your question, because I don’t know the answer for sure. I’ve been told you can damage nerves by being in a bad position for a ling time, but I don’t know if it’s an old wives tale or fact.

Mariah's avatar

Breaks, what are those? XD I have hyper-focus when I’m doing something like this. It’s hard to even remember to eat. I’ll have to be more diligent about it though. Thanks @JLeslie!

thorninmud's avatar

Carpal tunnel syndrome is common among carvers and can manifest first as the kind of tingling you describe.

Mariah's avatar

Damnit. I’m already at risk for that since my job has me at a computer typing 8 hours a day. I’ll have to be careful – thanks.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Perhaps use an alarm on your phone to remind you to take a break. I do that when I’m likely to get very focused and forget. Great that you’re enjoying it so much. You’ll have to share some pictures of your work.

JLeslie's avatar

Carpal Tunnel, I didn’t even think of it, but it seems very logical that it is a risk. A girl on my dorm floor in college had to get surgery on both wrists, I guess she was very prone to it. She was a freshman, and had been working at Subway and that was enough to give her damage. Meanwhile, some people work with their hands for most of their lives and don’t develop it.

I still say take breaks. I know it’s hard. I try to make sure I stand up more when I will be sitting a long time, take aspirin when I travel, and stay hydrated, for fear of blood clots. It’s a pain. When my husband and I drive long distance our friends do the trip much faster, because they don’t worry about those health concerns. I think they think we’re ridiculous. I know I don’t need to explain to you the inconvenience of health problems, I’m just saying I empathize with the difficulty of breaking away when you want to get something done, even if it’s a health risk.

Mariah's avatar

Good point about blood clots, I really ought to be more vigilant of them too, I’m at risk for those because of my birth control and because I sit all day at work.

It’s interesting, now that I’m out of college, I feel like the most insidious risks I face come from the simple things I do every day: my office chair, the snacks I mindlessly munch at work, my posture. I’m trying to be mindful of it all.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah I’m much older than you. I actually have a genetic risk for blood clots. Not that it’s not a good idea to do as much right as you can while your young, but I really feel all the risks hanging over my head.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I highly recommend that you use good ergonomics while typing, good posture while doing woodwork, and make sure you use a proper grip when planing, sawing, etc. I used to lift weights 3 – 4 times a week. Gripping the bars produced the tingling you describe. My trainer checked my grip and said it was OK and that all beginners get it. I never felt any pain, just numbing and tingling like they were going to sleep. I got some lifter’s gloves which seem to help. They’re like cycler’s gloves.

During this time, my work entailed a lot of typing on a computer keyboard. I became concerned about carpal tunnel as I’d had patients with it and so I re-trained myself to type the way I was taught with good posture and without resting my wrists on the desk like a slob. I even got a pad just in case, but my wrists rarely touched it now that my arms had the strength (due to the workouts) to keep my hands up indefinitely with ease and comfort. I determined that the new muscularity in my hands slowed my WPMs down more than the numbing effect. Plus the beneficial effects of the workouts upon my general health far outweighed a bit of hand numbness, so I continued cautiously. It became a risk vs reward proposition.

Eventually, the numbing went away because I think the blood flow to my hands improved and repaired any initial damage I’d done and the newly developed hand muscle support prevented the injury from reoccurring. I ended up with extremely strong hands and no lasting damage. Discipline is everything, I guess.

Buttonstc's avatar

In addition to taking breaks and being more careful in general, I’m wondering if it might help your general hand strength (and increase blood flow) to get a couple of those squooshy hand-exercise balls to squeeze at idle times during the day (like when stuck in traffic or watching TV.)

Just a thought…

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think blood flow has much to do with it. Even though I think it’s always good to exercise an area to increase blood flow, artery and vein size and promote growth of tributaries. Numbness, and limbs that fall asleep are caused by nerve stuff from what I understand not blood flow. That’s an old wives tale unless I am mistaken. Inflammation near the nerve can be part of the problem, and so resting your hands and wrists can help recover from carpal tunnel. Also, a position that squashes the nerve will cause a part if your body to “fall asleep.”

gorillapaws's avatar

The best way to prevent blood clots is to walk (your calf is a pump that helps the blood in your veins travel uphill against gravity back to your heart). If you have a job that requires prolonged sitting/standing and have a reason to be concerned about clots (like a family history) I would recommend you get a pair of medical-grade compression stockings and wear them. Your best bet is to use the American College of Phlebology’s Physician Finder to find a specialist in your area that deals with vein problems. They should be able to get you a prescription and fitted for a pair of compression stockings. They come in a variety of styles now, and some are really nice.

@JLeslie Blood flow does play a role in the development of blood clots.

rojo's avatar

I don’t know about nerve damage but I have noticed a decrease in the amount of time I can grasp something or hold something above my head before it starts tingling from, I assume, a lack of blood flow circulating.

JLeslie's avatar

@gorillapaws I’m just talking about the numbness, and asleep feeling that relates directly to the Q. A jelly mentioned, blood flow, I think it was @Espiritus_Corvus, and that’s what our mothers and grandmothers use to say when our foot fell asleep, “you’re cutting off your circulation.” As far as I know that’s incorrect for the cause of pins and needles. I’m not picking on that jelly, it’s a very common idea that blood flow is related to this sort of thing.

I brought up the blood clots as an empathetic analogy. Blood flow and blood running time relate to that as you pointed out. Regarding hand exercises, I always mean to do more of that, because I want the veins in my hands to be larger for when I need IV’s during medical care. I never have a problem, but I want to keep it that way as I age. Plus, you’re right about the benefit of strengthening our hands, or any part of our body we exercise.

When I’m vitamin D deficient exercise makes me hurt and shake, and it’s a huge deterrent. Especially my hands were prone to it, I assume because they have smaller muscles. That might be something to check also when at the doctor, vitamin D and B12. B12 can be nerve related. The OP’s symptoms can be explained by the intensity of her work, but no harm in making sure D and B12 are normal. I assume @Mariah is already tested for those though considering her medical history. Worth noting B12 normal ranges are higher in some countries than in America, and some people argue we should raise ours.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@JLeslie I mentioned increased blood flow as a healing factor and it is. Nerve damage repair requires oxygen, proteins and other nutrients to the site. These things are transported to the damaged nerve via the arteries. Thus, blood flow to the site is necessary for the healing process to take place and increased or decreased blood flow to the site can affect the speed of progress.

My weight lifting increased blood flow to my wrists (and everywhere else) where I had slightly damaged the nerves due to the repetitive stresses during weight lifting. It was coincidental. Normally, you remove the aggravator—in this case the activity of weight lifting—and take up activities such as aerobics if blood flow increase is desired. I didn’t do this because I’m stubborn and enjoyed the the general effects of weight lifting far more than I was afraid of permanent nerve damaged after assessing the situation and getting professional advice.

Eventually, the new musculature in my hands and arms provided the support I needed to take the pressure off the nerves in my wrists to enable me to continue lifting without doing further damage and the increased blood flow to the site sped up the healing process (it’s nice how a healthy body will often take care of itself if you’re treating it right). It took about six months for the numbness to go away—which is really quite fast, by about two thirds, for nerve repair. During this time I found out that many new lifters experience this and it is expected.

I’m giving no advice here. I’m only sharing my personal experience concerning an incident of slight nerve damage due to what is called a “repetitive motion injury”, i.e. an injury due to repetitive motion. And my opinion that Mariah is simply undergoing the side effects of asking her hands to do something they are not accustomed to and are not as yet equipt to do.

JLeslie's avatar

Blood flow usually meets the demands. Our blood flow increases as we demand more of our muscles for instance. I completely support doing activities to increase blood flow, I’m only commenting on the idea that when we have a part of us “fall asleep” that is not our circulation being cut off, but rather a nerve related thing. I’m just correcting that one old wives tale that’s still prevalent. Another one I hear all the time is cutting your hair makes it grow faster. Or, sweat out a fever. There are tons of them. Some important, some not so important.

Without blood flow tissue dies. People with nerve damage like with carpal tunnel don’t have necrotic damage. Sometimes people with neuropathy also have necrosis simultaneously, but it’s two different things going on. Like in the case of diabetics they might have neuropathy and necrosis in their feet, but the diabetes is aggravating all sorts of multiple problems.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’ve found your powers of ESP absolutely incredible. After 25 years as an RN, I still can’t diagnose from a computer screen thousands of miles away on information based solely upon a written subjective statement from the patient. How in the world do you do it, Les?

ucme's avatar

I sometimes get this in my wrist when lifting weights, only the left one strangely enough.
I just put it down to repetitive strain injury, kind of comes with the territory.

Mariah's avatar

Thanks for the advice, all :)

@Earthbound_Misfit Thanks! I only have one teeny completed project so far: A widdle whale :)

JLeslie's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus I didn’t diagnose anything. I didn’t even think of the carpal tunnel, someone else did. I’m just talking about the saying regarding cutting off circulation and a limb falling asleep, that’s it. Don’t make it more than it is.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

That is very cute @Mariah. I like it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Buttonstc I failed to mention that I agree with you that exercises can help strengthen the hands, and stronger muscles can help prevent damage in more ways than one.

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