What You Need to Know About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One of the most prevalent problems affecting the hand is carpal tunnel syndrome which can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and wrist. Learn the causes, risk factors, and how you can prevent this condition.
If your work entails repetitive wrist movements such as those that involve a keyboard, assembly-line production, manufacturing, or construction, then you might have experienced hand pain now and then. There are many known causes of hand pain, so it pays to be able to determine whether you are at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s a common condition that affects the hand and wrist — causing pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the hand. Our median nerve is located on the palm side of our hands (also called the carpal tunnel). The median nerve provides our ability to feel (sense of touch) to the thumb, index finger, long finger, and a portion of the ring finger. It also sends the impulse to the thumb muscle. Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect either or both hands.
The compression in carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by swelling inside your wrist. This then leads to a feeling of numbness, weakness, and tingling on the side of your hand near the thumb. For some, there’s a burning sensation that travels up their arm, while for others, it feels like their hand “falls asleep”, so they may frequently drop objects.
Causes and Risk Factors
Aside from the repeated motion of your wrists, underlying medical conditions can cause swelling in the wrist. In some cases, they also cause obstruction of blood flow. Some of the conditions associated with carpal tunnel syndrome are diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis), and traumas to the wrist.
Women are said to be three times more likely to contract it than men. This could be because their carpal tunnels are generally smaller, and fluid retention from pregnancy or menopause also adds to the risk factor.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be aggravated by repeatedly overextending the wrist. This repeated wrist motion further contributes to median nerve swelling and compression. It can be a result of:
- Wrist positioning while using a keyboard or mouse
- Prolonged exposure to vibrations caused by the use of hand tools or power tools
- Any repetitive movement that causes your wrist to extend beyond its normal range of motion, such as playing the piano or typing
Treatment and Prevention
Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment is determined by the severity of your pain and symptoms, as well as the presence of weakness in the hand. The Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends treating carpal tunnel syndrome without surgery whenever possible. These non-surgical options include wrist splints, mild pain medications, steroid injections, exercises, therapy, and treatment of the underlying conditions.
To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, you might need to review any need for changes in the configuration of your workstation — take a look specifically at your hand placement to help avoid overextending your wrist. Make sure also, that your computer mouse is comfortable to use and does not cause wrist strain.
Here are other ways to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Sleep with your wrists in a straight position
- As much as possible, keep your wrists straight when handling tools
- Avoid continually flexing (curling) and overextending your wrists
- Reduce repetitive and strong clutching with the wrist in a flexed position
- Take frequent breaks from a repetitious activity
- Do conditioning and stretching exercises before and after activities
- Keep your hands warm to reduce the likelihood of hand pain and stiffness
Lastly, make sure to pay attention to your posture. Incorrect posture causes your shoulders to roll forward, shortening your neck and shoulder muscles and pinching your neck nerves. This can cause pain in the wrists, fingers, and hands, as well as neck aches.