Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) affects 4 to 10 million Americans every year. It is considered the most common nerve disorder that middle-aged and older individuals experience. Females are three times more prone to developing this condition than males. CTS mainly affects the hands, particularly the fingers (excluding the pinkie). As a result, it can severely affect the productivity and life of a person.
Though symptoms may start from a mild occasional pain and tingling sensation in the fingers, it can develop into a severe stage which can eventually weaken the hand, losing some of its sensations and ultimately reducing hand function.
What People Know About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most people believe that when there is pain and discomfort in the wrist, palm and fingers this could be caused by too much strain on the hand and muscles due to overuse. Thus there is no cause for alarm as rest is enough to normalize the condition. This can be true. However, CTS can also be caused by some underlying factors. If it becomes worse, this can lead to a more serious medical condition.
CTS cannot always be healed by resting the hands. Sometimes hand issues can be caused by nerve damage, a hand injury, or other medical conditions.
It is always advised that once you have symptoms you should check with your neurologist especially if the problem becomes frequent and seems to be advancing.
Your neurologist can diagnose CTS and other neurological conditions. He or she can help eliminate the symptoms or even treat the condition.
CTS is highly treatable in its early stage. However, without treatment it may advance and become irreversible once permanent damage to the hand muscles and nerves have occurred.
What Can Cause Median Nerve Compression?
CTS is caused by many factors. When there is an inflammation or swelling in any part of your wrist that puts pressure on the carpal tunnel, this can ultimately pinch the median nerve. As a result, blood flow is obstructed.
The most common medical causes for the median nerve becoming compressed can be any of the following:
- Thyroid dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Pregnancy or menopause that can cause fluid retention
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Wrist trauma
- Wrist fractures
Symptoms That Show The Occurrence Of CTS
Like other neurological conditions, describing your symptoms can help your doctor determine if CTS is really the case. The following symptoms can indicate CTS.
- Numbness in the index, thumb, ring and middle fingers.
- The occurrence of tingling or burning sensations in the hand and fingers usually in the morning or while at rest like in the evening or when sleeping. These sensations can extend up to the forearm.
- Losing hand strength which is recognizable when holding something like a cell phone or difficulty in using the fingers when buttoning your shirt.
Who is more at risk?
As mentioned, women are more likely to develop CTS although no one can be spared from it. It is also commonly seen among the populations between the ages of 30 and 60. Typically, these are the ages when people tend to be more active in their work and become more prone to injury.
Among the older people, those who suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis also tend to have a higher risk for experiencing CTS. These conditions mainly affect the nerves. Other contributory factors can be habit, lifestyle, diet and weight regardless of your age and gender.
There are also certain activities that put people of any age at the higher risk of developing CTS. These activities include:
- Manufacturing work in a factory or assembly line
- Construction work
- Encoding or keyboarding work
- Hand sports like tennis or ping pong
- How CTS Could Be Prevented?
There are no surefire ways of preventing carpal tunnel.
The good news is if you are required to do repetitive work, you can do something to reduce strain and prevent the occurrence of CTS. Consider the following:
- While performing tasks try using a gentler hold or touch. For example, if your job involves typing, try to use gentler key strokes.
- Rest your hands after using them strenuously for an hour. A 10-15 minute hand break is an adequate period of time to relax the median nerve and your arm muscles.
- While taking a break, do simple hand stretches like making a fist and opening your fingers as wide as possible. Do this repeatedly and then shake or wiggle your hands to release tension inside the wrist.
- You can also do a hand warm-up before you work by locking your fingers together and extending your arms and stretching your fingers outward repeatedly. This can help relax wrist muscles and provide a good flow of blood to the fingers.
- Try to keep your wrist straight or in a neutral position when working to avoid building up pressure on your wrist. Too much bending of your wrist will put a strain not only on the wrist but on the whole hand area.
- Switch use of your hands whenever possible. Manual work usually takes its toll mostly on the hand that is stronger. If you are capable of using the other hand, use it to give the stronger hand a break.
- Check your posture. Poor posture while sitting and working with your hands can make you roll your shoulders forward and eventually shrinking your neck and straining your shoulder muscles. This also puts pressure on the nerves in your neck and can aggravate your wrist problem.
- Put on wrist and hand protection when feeling numbness or pain in the wrist and hand area. Especially during the cold season when symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can increase, gloves with no fingers are a good way to encourage good flow of blood into your hands while on the job.
- Discuss your CTS condition with your employer so you could possibly alternate your duties from time to time. If you keep performing the same job it can worsen your symptoms.
- See your neurologist for a complete diagnosis and treatment. If you want to decrease your symptoms and preserve the use of your hands, consider acting now.