What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
CTS is a problem of the median nerve which runs from the forearm into the hand. When there is excessive pressure in the wrist, it causes swelling of the median nerve. This small area called the carpal tunnel is a narrow tunnel at the wrist made up of bones, soft tissues, nerves, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. When the median nerve which runs through this tunnel gets compressed it causes pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the hand and wrist which radiates into the forearm. The carpal tunnel is the most common area that gets compressed in both the hands and feet.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of carpal tunnel vary in intensity and frequency based on the patient. It is associated with burning, tingling, itching, and/or numbness in the palm of the hand while thumb, index, and middle fingers are the most common. Some people with CTS feel their fingers are useless and have a hard time grasping small objects or making a fist. Since many people sleep with flexed wrists, the symptoms are oftentimes worse at night. As symptoms continue to worsen, tingling may persist throughout the day. Some people develop wasting of the muscles at the base of the thumb while others become unable to distinguish hot from cold by touch.
What are the Causes?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome develops from various causes. PC Medical Centers will be able to identify your underlying cause and help correct the aggravating factors. Some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others which makes median nerve compression more likely. CTS can also develop because of injury to the wrist that causes swelling as well as repetitive use in life and sports. Some other conditions which make you more susceptible to developing CTS are the following: overactive pituitary gland, hypothyroidism, diabetes, high blood pressure, wrist fractures, inflammatory arthritis, mechanical problems in the wrist joint, poor work ergonomics, repeated use of vibrating hand tools and fluid retention from pregnancy or menopause. Other causes occur due to improper daily mechanics; such as, frequent pressure in the wrist area, incorrect motion of the wrist repeatedly, wrong positioning of your wrists while using a keyboard or mouse as well as extended hours of playing piano or computer keyboard.
Who is at Risk?
Typically, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs in adults with women three times more likely to develop it than men. According to research, people who are between the ages of 30 and 60 are most likely diagnosed with this syndrome. Chain-smokers, those who love salty foods, and those who have inactive lifestyles are also at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. The dominant hand is usually affected first followed by severe pain. CTS is especially common in certain lines of work such as assembly line workers, sewing, carpentry, and cleaning. It can also be a side effect of pregnancy and repetitive use in life or sports.
How is it Diagnosed?
CTS should be diagnosed and treated early. During your consultation, you will receive a standard physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders and neck to help determine if your symptoms are related to daily activities or to an underlying disorder.
What is the Treatment?
Initial therapy includes:
- Resting the affected hand and wrist
- Avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms
- Immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending
- Applying cool packs to help reduce swelling from inflammation
Scientists are also investigating other therapies, such as acupuncture, that may help prevent and treat this disorder. Some medications can help with pain control and inflammation. Studies have shown that vitamin B6 supplements may relieve CTS symptoms.
How can CTS be prevented?
- Perform on-the-job conditioning (stretching and light exercises)
- Take frequent rest breaks
- Wear splints to help keep the wrists straight
- Use fingerless gloves to help keep the hands warm and flexible
- Use correct posture and wrist position
- To minimize workplace injuries, try rotating jobs among workers. Employers can also develop programs in ergonomics—the process of adapting workplace conditions and job demands to workers’ physical capabilities.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, call us today at (573) 335-9188.