Your hands are some of the most important body parts you have, and it’s critical to protect yourself from one of the more common ailments that can befall your hands: carpal tunnel.
Carpal tunnel is a mild-to-severe syndrome that can cause permanent damage to your hands. It affects hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. However, it is both preventable and treatable, so let’s take a look at carpal tunnel and examine what you can do to stop it from negatively affecting your life.
What Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common peripheral neuropathy, which means damage to the nerves of your limbs. It is caused by compression of the median nerve, an important branch of your nervous system that passes through your arm via the carpal tunnel, which gives the syndrome its name. CTS has a variety of symptoms including:
- Numbness: Loss of feeling in your fingers, hands, or wrist which can travel up the arm. The sense of “pins and needles” on the skin, burning sensations or tingling is also common.
- Pain: Chronic pain in your hands or wrists which usually gets worse at night and can interrupt sleep.
- Weakness: Loss of strength in your hands, especially the thumb. Sharp decreases in grip strength are common, making it difficult to form a fist. This weakness can also cause you difficulty when manipulating small objects.
- Swelling: Feelings of light or painful swelling in your fingers.
If left untreated, permanent effects may include:
- Lasting pain in the hands, wrist or arm
- Nerve damage
- Muscle damage
- Muscle atrophy
- Loss of function in hands and fingers
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There is no one cause to CTS. It onsets gradually and gets worse over time. Also, it affects more women than men. Although there may not be a direct culprit for CTS like a virus or bacteria, there are several medical factors that can drastically increase your risk of developing the syndrome, including:
- Injuries like sprains or fractures
- Genetic predisposition, frequently meaning a smaller carpal tunnel in the arm
- The strain of pregnancy
- The compression of the median nerve at several locations, like the spine and wrist, known as “double-crush syndrome”
- Advanced age
Besides these physiological causes, several risk factors have been identified concerning your lifestyle and occupation. Strained and repeated motions for long periods of time can be dangerous if the frequency or amount is not changed. Additionally, long periods of using a firm grip are also associated with CTS.
Some of the activities that can put you at risk include:
- Playing a musical instrument
- Typing on a keyboard throughout the day
- Handling heavy objects frequently
- Crafting, knitting, and sewing
- Long periods of cycling which require an intense grip on handlebars
- Using power tools or other machinery that needs a grip and applies strong vibration throughout the hands
- Writing by hand with pen or pencil
While there is no concrete link between occupations and CTS, workers of specific jobs are affected disproportionately by it. This means that if you have a particular occupation, you are more likely to develop carpal tunnel than others. Some of these at-risk professions include:
- Construction worker
- Checkout counter attendants
- Assembly line workers
- Typists and other office workers
How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
One of the easiest ways you can prevent CTS is to modify your work practices. If you can lower the frequency, amount, or severity of repetitive hand and arm motions, then you can drastically reduce your chances of developing the syndrome. Barring that, better ergonomics from equipment like a wrist splint or changes in technique are helpful.
Correct posture while sitting for long periods of time also goes a long way toward prevention. After stressful activities, apply cold packs, rest your hands, and perform hand exercises as recommended by a doctor.
Treating the medical conditions mentioned above can also lower your risks. Fighting obesity by eating right and being more active is linked to reduced chances of developing CTS. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication available over the counter can also help with prevention.
How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?
Medications are often employed to treat carpal tunnel, but their effectiveness has mixed results and only ease symptoms in the short term. Undergoing physical therapy can help relieve and reverse the effects of CTS, and often involves wrist splinting. If your case of CTS is particularly severe, surgery is an option. The procedure consists of severing a ligament from the median nerve to relieve pressure and has helped many people recover.
The expert care providers at Countryside Orthopaedics and Physical Therapy can identify carpal tunnel syndrome and help you improve and get treatment through surgical and non-surgical therapy. If you suspect you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, visit us today so we can help you prevent long-term damage.