Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) affects many people in the UK each year. The condition can lead to chronic pain in the hand and wrist which means it can have a dramatic impact upon your ability to work or function normally.
CTS occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pinched or compressed when it passes through the carpal tunnel (a small passageway in the wrist).
In this post, we’ll review what causes carpal tunnel syndrome, the suffering it can cause and what steps can be taken to prevent it.
Common Symptoms Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) presents with a range of common symptoms, typically affecting the hand and wrist. These symptoms can vary in intensity and may worsen over time if left untreated. The most prevalent signs of CTS include:
- Tingling and Numbness. One of the most common symptoms of CTS is tingling sensations (often described as pins and needles) or a feeling of electric shocks in the thumb, index finger, middle finger or ring finger. This numbness can extend up the forearm in severe cases.
- Pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers may experience pain in the hand, particularly around the base of the thumb and along the palm. The pain can radiate up the arm, causing discomfort and interference with daily activities.
- Weakness. As the pressure on the median nerve increases, weakness in the hand may develop, leading to reduced grip strength. Everyday tasks like holding objects or grasping items can therefore become challenging.
- Sleep Problems. CTS symptoms often become worse at night. They can cause sleep disturbance which can lead to fatigue.
- Dexterity Problems. People with CTS may find it difficult to perform delicate tasks with the affected hand due to the tingling, weakness and loss of fine motor control.
- Shooting Pain. In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause shooting pains that travel from the wrist up to the arm or down to the fingers.
If any of these symptoms become apparent, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Early diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can help to reduce the pain and discomfort that could increase if left untreated.
What Can Increase The Likelihood Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Several factors can increase the chances that you’ll develop CTS. Knowing these factors can help employers and others to reduce the risks. Some of the common reasons why CTS can develop include:
- Repetitive Hand Movements. Engaging in repetitive hand and wrist motions, especially without sufficient rest or breaks, can strain the tendons in the carpal tunnel, leading to inflammation and increased pressure on the median nerve.
- Awkward Hand Postures. Prolonged or frequent use of awkward hand positions, such as bending the wrist too far up or down or deviating it to the side, can contribute to the compression of the median nerve within the carpal tunnel.
- Forceful Hand Use. Tasks that require excessive force or pressure on the hands and wrists, like using hand tools or gripping heavy objects, can increase the risk of CTS.
- Age and Gender. Typically, those over the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, CTS is more common in women than it is in men.
- Vibrations. Regular exposure to vibrating tools or machinery, commonly seen in certain occupations like construction or manufacturing, may contribute to nerve compression in the carpal tunnel.
- Health Conditions. Certain medical conditions can increase the likelihood of CTS, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders and obesity. It is possible that this is linked to fluid retention or inflammation caused by those conditions, which can add pressure to the carpal tunnel and affect the median nerve.
Importantly, not everybody exposed to the common risk factors will go on to develop CTS. Also, in many cases, the condition might be triggered by a combination of factors rather than just one. The main point here is that if you are experiencing hand or wrist pain and believe you might have carpal tunnel syndrome, you should raise your concerns with your GP.
How Can Employers Reduce The Risks Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Many CTS sufferers can trace the cause of their condition back to their employment. As employers have a duty of care to try to protect the well-being of their staff, they should take reasonable steps to try and prevent work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some of the steps employers could take include:
- Ergonomic Workspace Design. Desks and workstations should be designed so that they are suitable for anybody who uses them. Adjustments should be easy to make so that workers of different heights and sizes can work comfortably. Ergonomic keyboards, mice, and chairs should also be provided to support natural hand and wrist positions and reduce strain. Our article here looks at the importance of ergonomics in the workplace.
- Regular Breaks and Rotation of Tasks. Staff should be allowed regular rest breaks away from their workstation to give their hands and wrists time to recover. Similarly, employers should consider rotating the roles of employees who are most at risk of CTS.
- Training. If there is a potential that a role could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, staff should be trained on how to complete it as safely as possible and in a way that reduces the risk of wrist or hand injuries.
- Workstation Assessments. Workstations should be assessed by trained members of staff or occupational health specialists regularly. To reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome for home workers, staff should be asked to conduct a self-assessment of their workstation or workspace.
- Specialist Equipment. Specialist wrist rests and mouse pads can make staff more comfortable if they use a computer for prolonged periods.
- Monitor Workloads. Employers should keep track of the amount of work staff are handling. Workloads should be realistic and staff should not be pressured into putting more effort in if it’ll increase the risk of CTS or related conditions.
- Encourage Reporting. Staff should feel comfortable with reporting any health problems or concerns about working conditions to their employer. Employers should take any concerns on board and react to them accordingly wherever possible.
- Manual Handling Training. If a role requires staff to lift or move heavy or awkward loads, they should be adequately trained on how to manage the load in the safest way possible.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Suffering From Work-Related CTS
If you believe your work roles are contributing to your CTS symptoms, the first thing to do is email your manager or supervisor with your concerns. They should listen to what you have to say and consider making any changes (as described above) that could reduce your suffering.
If they don’t agree that your working practices are causing your symptoms, you could ask them to consult with an occupational health therapist so a proper assessment of your role can be carried out.
Of course, if you have concerns about any form of wrist or hand pain, you should discuss them with your doctor to try and reduce the risk of further suffering.
How To Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The NHS provides some advice on how to deal with the symptoms of CTS. They include:
- Wearing a wrist splint to keep the wrist as straight as possible.
- Try to reduce the cause of your symptoms (this may be something you’ll need to discuss with your employer).
- Take painkillers – this is a short-term measure that might ease your symptoms.
- Hand exercises. To prevent causing further damage, these should only be carried out if your doctor has explained them to you.
The information in this section is not medical advice and we’d always suggest that you seek professional medical advice if you believe you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Can You Claim Compensation For Work-Related CTS?
In some cases, it might be possible to claim compensation for CTS from your employer if your job has caused you to be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Importantly, it will need to be proven that your employer’s negligence has caused your suffering if you’re to win compensation.
This might include photographs of your work area, emails you’ve sent about working conditions and medical reports from your GP to confirm your condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to a fair bit of pain and suffering. Symptoms can also make it difficult for you to work or enjoy your usual activities. However, it is possible to reduce the risk of CTS by taking proper precautions and reacting early when symptoms of CTS become obvious.
Employers should proactively think about these precautions or implement them if staff are worried about their health to try and reduce the risk of excessive sick leave caused by CTS.
If you would like to talk to us about making a carpal tunnel syndrome compensation claim, please call 0800 6524 881.