Grocery store clerks may have more than bruised fruit on their minds now that a study has demonstrated that repeated hand motions at the checkout counter could cause nerve damage to their fingers.
Dr. Linda Rosenstock of the occupational medicine program at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle said recently that checkers may suffer nerve damage as a result of their repeated grasping, flexing and extending the wrist.
She described the disorder as carpal tunnel syndrome, a degenerative nerve problem caused by compression of the median nerve between the tendons and the bones in the hand that lead to the fingers.
"This is a new workplace problem that is preventable," she said. "But if it is left untreated, it can progress to permanent nerve damage, permanent pain and permanent loss of function in the fingers."
Nearly a quarter of a million people work as full-time grocery checkers in the United States, and studies show that the average checker handles more than 500 items and fills more than 80 bags an hour. By the end of an average eight-hour shift, checkers handle more than 6,000 pounds of groceries, Rosenstock said.
She blamed widespread use of electronic price scanners as a problem in some cases because "some new-style scanners increase the use of wrist motion."
Rosenstock said the disorder is characterized by a pain and tingling sensation in the hand that can become so pronounced in some people that they can become permanently impaired.
She suggests adjusting check stand height, determining a more efficient and less stressful distance between cash register and bagging station and incorporating several breaks into the workday to relieve repetitive stress on the hands.