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What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
People who believe they have carpal tunnel should see a doctor immediately.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve that runs through the wrist is compressed. This can cause pain or discomfort, and impact a person’s ability to perform a number of jobs, including those that involve large amounts of typing. Here are some facts about the causes and symptoms of the syndrome as well as recommended prevention and treatment methods:
What causes carpal tunnel?
The median nerve runs all the way from the forearm to the palm of the hand. If the wrists swells because of a condition like arthritis, or tendons become irritated, the nerve can become compressed. Carpal tunnel is the most common “entrapment” neuropathy, the term used to describe conditions in which peripheral nerves are compressed or otherwise damaged. It can cause pain, numbness and/or a feeling of finger swelling, even when the actual size of the digits appears unchanged.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel?
“The onset of carpal tunnel is usually gradual.”
The onset of carpal tunnel is usually gradual. People first start to notice itching, burning or numbness in their palms for fingers, particularly in the thumb, index or middle fingers. Some individuals have difficulty manipulating their hands, and report decreased sensation and function. Because people often sleep in positions that either place weight on or flex their wrists, symptoms often first present themselves upon waking up one day, and are sometimes stronger in the morning. In these cases, the person with carpal tunnel may need to “shake out” their hands or wrists to regain full feeling.
In more severe cases, the symptoms are more pronounced, and may include a great deal of pain. Because grip strength is reduced, it becomes harder to hold onto objects, form a fist and do other everyday tasks. Hand muscles become weaker, and some people lose ability to differentiate temperatures using their hands. Carpal tunnel usually develops in the dominant hand first.
How does carpal tunnel develop?
Most of the time, carpal tunnel does not develop due to a singular factor. Rather, a combination of things increase the amount of pressure on the median nerve, also known as the carpal tunnel, causing it to compress. In these cases, the problem lies not with the nerve itself, but rather with the surrounding tendons. There is also a genetic component: The carpal tunnel is smaller in some people than in others, meaning that it is easier for pressure to build up. This could be why women are more likely to develop the disorder than men are, by a factor of about three. Those who are pregnant or diabetic are also at an increased risk of carpal tunnel.
Lifestyle factors, such as industry, can also have an impact on the development of carpal tunnel. Repeated use of vibrating hand tools is an associated factor, and carpal tunnel is particularly common in the manufacturing and sewing industries.
How can you prevent carpal tunnel?
While genetic factors are difficult to overcome, there are measures that people can take to reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel. Employees in industries where it is common can stretch their fingers, take frequent rest breaks and use ergonomically designed tools to mitigate their risks. As well, specially designed gloves, like the IMAK RSI SmartGlove, can help support your wrists and ensures ergonomically correct wrist position. Anybody who feels that their job is exacerbating symptoms related to carpal tunnel should take proper precautions before it becomes even more advanced.
“A support glove can help ensure ergonomically correct wrist position.”
Over time, medication may be prescribed to ease pain and swelling. Physical therapy might also be a part of recovery, not just to rebuild strength in the wrist and hand but also to give the patient strategies that she can use in her everyday life to help manage the condition.
How can you treat carpal tunnel?
People who believe they have developed carpal tunnel should see a physician as soon as possible, so that they can begin treatment. When there are underlying risk factors, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, most doctors will begin by treating those first. Rest is one of the most common recommendations, and in some cases, a doctor may put the wrist in a splint to ensure that it is not further damaged. For immediate inflammation relief, a cold pack may be administered.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended. This measure is usually only taken if symptoms persist for over six months, and are unresponsive to other courses of treatment. In this situation, a surgeon can cut the band of tissue around the wrist, easing the compression and providing relief to the patient.