Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition where the median nerve, which runs from the hand to the forearm, gets pinched in the wrist, causing occasional numbness in the thumb or fingers. If CTS persists, there is the possibility of permanent damage to the median nerve, which leads to constant numbness, tingling and weakness in the hands and fingers.
Hand and Wrist Strain
People most likely to suffer from CTS are those who constantly perform repetitive motions in their hands and wrists. One example of a repetitive motion would be typing on a keyboard. Other common, repetitive motions in the hands and wrists include:
- Playing video games with a joystick, controller, or a mouse and keyboard
- Playing a musical instrument
- Jobs involving extensive use of the hands like mechanics, butchers, assembly line, construction, etc.
- Sports involving extensive use of the hands and wrists like golf, table tennis, racquet ball, etc.
Common Diseases and Conditions Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Aside from repetitive motions, there are numerous diseases and conditions that can create excess pressure on the median nerve like a tumor or a fractured bone. Common diseases and conditions that have been linked to CTS include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis: fluid build-up causing pain and swelling around the wrist.
- Fractured or broken bones: possibility of a broken or fractured bone around the wrist healing improperly, causing excess pressure on the median nerve.
- Diabetes: affects the blood flow to the hands.
- Tumors and abnormal growths (bone spurs): can reduce the amount of space around the wrist.
- Obesity: reduces blood flow to the hands.
- Hyperthyroidism: possibility that fluid retention and bloating associated with this condition can increase the risk of CTS.
- Pregnancy: wrist swelling that occurs due to pregnancy can increase the risk of CTS.
Other Risk Factors
- Age: The likelihood of developing any of the diseases and conditions associated with CTS increase as a person ages.
- Sex: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, women are three times more likely to develop CTS.
- Alcoholism: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of nerve damage, which leads to CTS.
- Smoking: Those who smoke are more likely to suffer from CTS because of a decrease in blood flow to the median nerve.
Once a person begins to feel any of the symptoms of CTS, there are several treatment options:
- Surgery: If the symptoms of CTS persist for an extended period of time, a person has the option of surgically releasing pressure from the median nerve by cutting the tissue around the wrist. This is a fairly simple surgical procedure that does not require the patient to stay in the hospital overnight.
- Medication: Certain medication can be taken to alleviate any pain or swelling around the wrist, decreasing the pressure on the median nerve.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can help treat CTS through exercises and massages that can reduce the amount of pressure on the median nerve. A hot and cold compress can also help alleviate any pain and swelling.
- Wrist splint: Wearing a wrist splint on the affected wrist at night and during the activity responsible for CTS can be used to alleviate pain and reduce pressure on the median nerve.
- Acupuncture: Though it has yet to be scientifically proven, acupuncture can help reduce the pain associated with CTS.
Preventative measures can be taken for those who feel they are more at risk for developing CTS:
- Ergonomic keyboards, cushioned mouse pads and using a trackball instead of a mouse can reduce the risk of developing CTS when working in an office environment.
- Proper posture, position and form when conducting repetitive motions in the hand and wrist can reduce the risk of CTS.
- Stretching and certain exercises can prevent CTS, or help alleviate discomfort if CTS has already developed.
- Taking breaks to rest, stretch and get the blood flowing when performing repetitive hand and wrist motions is important for preventing CTS.
- Since alcoholism, obesity and diabetes have all been associated with CTS, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising whenever possible, like in the office, can be used as a preventative measure.
- Using each hand evenly can prevent CTS when performing repetitive motions in the hands or wrists.