The term “carpal tunnel” can strike fear in even the bravest of hearts. It causes constant pain that becomes debilitating and overwhelming.
But just what is it and what causes its symptoms? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Your median nerve runs from your palm to forearm. This main nerve controls sensation for your palm, thumb, and fingers, excluding your pinky. Impulses that move the fingers and thumb also come from the median nerve, so its function is imperative for normal hand movement.
The carpal tunnel is a small passageway at the base of the hand. The median nerve runs through this narrow pathway. When tendons in the wrist become irritated or swollen, the carpal tunnel narrows, compressing the median nerve, and resulting in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
A variety of factors cause the carpal tunnel to narrow and contribute to the syndrome. For this reason, it’s often difficult for doctors to determine an exact cause if you develop the syndrome.
However, certain preexisting health conditions greatly increase your likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
These conditions include:
- Metabolic disorders
- Rheumatoid arthritis
This is because diabetes and other chronic illnesses increase nerve damage, so you’re more likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Furthermore, women often experience fluid retention during pregnancy, which puts pressure on the joints (including wrists). Hypothyroid disorder and similar metabolic disorders may increase chances of getting carpal tunnel, though doctors and scientists are still studying the connection.
Along with specific medical conditions, certain factors make you more prone to getting carpal tunnel syndrome. These might include the following situations:
- Uncomfortable workplace conditions
- Breaking your wrist
- Being a female
- Advanced age
- Weakened tendons
Those who do assembly line work are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel than those in data entry positions because of the repetitive motions. Additionally, women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel because of their naturally smaller carpal tunnels.
Preliminary and Advanced Symptoms
For most people, the initial symptoms of carpal tunnel are easy to ignore. This is because numbness, tingling, and similar sensations in the hand and arm may come and go during Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’s early stages. For those who sleep with their wrists curled, they may awake to stiff and sore wrists without knowing why. These symptoms might seem trivial or annoying at most.
Later, pain emerges, usually in the dominant hand first. Symptoms continue to increase in frequency over time, leading to even more intense pain. Most people with carpal tunnel also experience a focused area of pain on the thumb pad rather than the pinky side of the palm.
Once the carpal tunnel syndrome advances, the following symptoms manifest themselves several times per day or even constantly:
- A feeling of swollen fingers
- Decreased grip strength
- Constant thumb pad pain
- Burning or itching palms
Carpal tunnel syndrome can result in nerve damage, muscle atrophy, and loss of sensation in the hand. Fortunately, these severe results don’t usually occur unless the syndrome goes untreated for an extended length of time.
Once you become aware of preliminary symptoms like numbness or tingling, seek immediate medical attention. The sooner you receive medical treatment, the less long-term damage you’ll have. You’ll be able to take steps toward healing your symptoms and improving your wrist health.
Typical treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome range from proactive to therapeutic. Such treatments include:
- Non-surgical techniques
- Braces or splints
- Activity adjustment
- Steroid injections
- Surgical treatments
- Outpatient tissue cutting to reduce pressure
- Recovery and physical therapy
Doctors usually recommend immediate surgery for severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. This will prevent further nerve and tissue damage, so it’s usually the best option. Once you have received surgery, you’ll follow up with months of non-surgical treatments and therapy.
While Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is treatable, it’s better to take a few precautionary steps to prevent the condition from ever developing.
If you think you are at risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, try the following techniques:
- Correct posture and monitoring. Many data entry positions and desk jobs require individuals to type at their computer for long stretches at a time. The repetitive motions irritate the nerve, especially if the individual has incorrect posture. Every hour or so of work, take the time to correct your posture.
- Wrist stretches and conditioning. Stretching before and after activity alleviates tension in the wrist. To do this, place your hand firmly on a flat surface and gently press for a few seconds to stretch the wrist and fingers.
- Take NSAIDS. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil, reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation in the wrists.
As you take these preventative steps, pay close attention to your body and its signals to assess your condition. Consult your doctor immediately if you experience numbness, pain, or tingling around your wrist.