Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful and often debilitating condition that affects many people worldwide. Carpal tunnel can be caused by repetitive activity of the hands or wrists, but it can also have underlying medical causes such as arthritis or diabetes. Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause severe pain and potentially permanent damage to the nerves in the hands and wrists. Thankfully, there are treatment options available for managing and treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
Here is everything you need to know about carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that affects the hands and wrists, causing pain, numbness, and tingling sensations of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand. It causes pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the thumb, index and middle fingers as well as part of the ring finger. The carpal tunnel is composed of bones and ligaments that create a narrow passageway through which these nerves travel. When this passage becomes narrower or when enlarged tendons press against it, it can compress and irritate the median nerve resulting in symptoms such as those mentioned above.
What Are The Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel?
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and wrist, especially in the thumb and fingers. The median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm, passes through a narrow space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. When the carpal tunnel becomes compressed or swollen, it can put pressure on the median nerve, leading to CTS.
Common symptoms of CTS include,
- Pain or discomfort in the hand or wrist, especially at night or first thing in the morning. This pain can sometimes radiate up the arm.
- Burning or tingling sensation in the fingers or palm of the hand, which may be accompanied by numbness or a loss of feeling.
- Drop things more frequently or have difficulty holding onto small objects.
- Muscles of the hand and wrist may become weak or atrophied.
These symptoms can be disruptive to daily activities, including work, hobbies, and sleep. It's important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any symptoms of CTS to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a combination of factors that result in the compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway created by bones and ligaments that sits at the base of the hand, and it contains the median nerve and several tendons that control finger movement. Repetitive hand movements, such as typing, sewing, or playing an instrument, can create inflammation in the wrist, leading to swelling that puts pressure on the median nerve.
Other factors that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome include obesity, pregnancy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by a structural abnormality in the wrist, such as a protruding bone or cyst, that further compresses the median nerve. Certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking or a lack of physical activity, may also increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Although carpal tunnel syndrome is often associated with office work or computer use, it can affect anyone who performs repetitive hand movements or who has other risk factors for the condition.
How Is CTS Treated?
The treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause of the condition. In mild cases, non-surgical treatments may be effective at relieving pain and reducing inflammation. These treatments may include wrist splinting or bracing, which keeps the wrist in a neutral, relaxed position and prevents further compression of the median nerve.
Other non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid injections, which can help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Physical therapy exercises or stretches may also help to improve wrist and hand mobility and strengthen the muscles of the hand and forearm. In more severe cases or cases that do not respond to non-surgical treatments, surgery may be necessary.
Carpal tunnel release surgery is a relatively simple procedure that involves cutting the ligament that creates the carpal tunnel, effectively releasing pressure on the median nerve. The procedure can be performed using traditional open surgery or endoscopically, with smaller incisions and faster recovery times.
While surgery can effectively relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it may take several weeks or months for patients to fully recover and regain their range of motion and strength. In many cases, a combination of non-surgical and surgical treatments may be necessary to effectively manage carpal tunnel syndrome and prevent long-term complications.
How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel?
There are several steps that can be taken to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly for individuals who are at high risk of developing the condition. Some prevention methods are,
- Take frequent breaks when performing repetitive hand or wrist motions. Taking short breaks every 20-30 minutes to stretch the hands and wrists, or to perform alternate tasks that use different muscle groups, can help to reduce strain and prevent inflammation build-up.
- Maintaining proper posture and ergonomics is also essential in preventing carpal tunnel; sitting with the back straight and feet flat on the floor, while keeping the wrists and forearms parallel to the ground and elbows at a 90-degree angle can help minimize wrist strain.
- If you work in an office or spend long periods of time typing or performing repetitive movements, you may want to consider using an ergonomic keyboard, mouse, or investing in other ergonomic equipment that can reduce strain on the hands and wrists.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding smoking can also help to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as several other health conditions that increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Seek prompt medical attention if you experience any symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, as early intervention can help to prevent the condition from becoming more severe and causing permanent nerve damage.
By taking proactive steps to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, and seeking prompt treatment if symptoms do arise, individuals can help to protect their hand and wrist health and maintain their overall well-being.