Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful and progressive condition that happens due to the median nerve in the wrist becoming compressed. The nerve runs from the forearm to your hand via a small space in the wrist that is known as the carpal tunnel. The median nerve is the main nerve that controls the feeling and movement of your thumb and the first three fingers. It does not control the movement and feeling of your pinkie. You can get carpal tunnel syndrome in one or both hands.
Causes Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the media nerve gets compressed by some pressure being exerted on the nerve.
Anything that irritates or presses onto the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, a wrist fracture can narrow the carpal tunnel space, causing nerve irritation, resulting in this syndrome. Rheumatoid arthritis of the wrist can also inflame the nerve, leading to this condition.
Healthcare professionals and researchers have not been able to isolate a single causative factor for the syndrome. Rather, they believe that a number of factors work together to cause the condition.
Risk Factors Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are a number of risk factors that may lead to Carpal tunnel syndrome. While these factors may not precisely cause carpal tunnel syndrome, they increase the tendency to develop or worsen the condition.
People, who work long hours that require them to repetitively flex their wrist, can end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. The prolonged and repetitive flexing of the wrist can lead to undue pressure onto the median nerve. It has been observed that professionals who work with vibrating tools, computers and construction work, are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Assembly line workers are also at high risk because they’re typically responsible for performing just one task repetitively during their entire shift.
Anatomical Anomalies & Injuries:
Wrist dislocation or fracture, or deformity of the wrist bones due to arthritis can narrow the carpal tunnel space. This, in turn, puts pressure onto the median nerve. Also, there are some people, who naturally have narrow carpal tunnel space. Such individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Women get carpal tunnel syndrome more often than men. This is because women have a smaller carpal tunnel space as compared to men. Moreover, the size of the carpal tunnel in women who develop the condition is smaller than women who do not get the condition.
There are certain health conditions such as diabetes that can damage the peripheral nerves. These health conditions increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Also, any inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the wrist tendon lining. The swollen lining then puts pressure onto the median nerve.
Even people diagnosed with thyroid disorders, obesity, and kidney failure are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with the syndrome. Pregnancy and menopause can also cause a change in the body fluid levels. When the body retains excessive fluids, it can irritate and inflame the median nerve. However, carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy often disappears without treatment once childbirth occurs.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms tend to come on slowly. Initially, the person experiences tingling sensation or numbness in the thumb and first three fingers. This sensation will come and go. As the condition worsens, you may experience an electric shock-like sensation, which will usually come on while you are driving, or holding a phone or newspaper. You may even wake up from your sleep because of this sensation, leading to disturbed sleep. Without proper treatment, the symptoms can become worse, both in terms of intensity and frequency.
You may also experience weakness in your hand and find it difficult to grasp objects. This weakness occurs due to the muscles of the thumb getting pinched or weakness in the hand. People with advanced carpal tunnel syndrome often drop things they are holding.
If you notice these symptoms and feel that they are preventing you from doing your normal work and life activities, you should immediately see a doctor. Ignoring the symptoms will not make them go away. Instead, it could lead to permanent nerve damage.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Prevention Tips
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Some of them include:
- Understanding the Cause and Risk Factors: The first step is to understand the cause and risk factors that lead to the condition. This will prevent you from putting yourself in a situation that can lead to the syndrome. However, at times this is not possible and this requires other preventive measures
- Wrist Position: Be mindful of your wrist position. Your wrist should be always in neutral position, and when holding objects, your must use your entire hand rather than just your fingers. When type-writing, always keep the wrist straight and your hands marginally higher than your wrists.
- Wrist Exercises: If you tend to work long hours on the keyboard or do prolonged, repetitive work, take short breaks and do wrist exercises to improve range of motion and flexibility. This prevents the median nerve from getting damaged.
Ergonomic Workplace Conditions Play A Significant Role In Minimising The Risk
Employers are obligated to provide their staff with comfortable and safe working conditions. Employees working extended periods of time should be provided with ergonomic devices, such as wrist-friendly mouse pads and keyboards, which keep the wrist elevated to prevent pressure being exerted onto the median nerve.
Staff, who work in assembly lines, construction and manufacturing, should be provided with periodic breaks so that they can rest their wrist and ease the pressure onto the median nerve. If your work involves using repetitive wrist movements, you must make it a habit to do regular wrist exercises to ease the stress on your wrist.
Invariably, people develop carpal tunnel syndrome due to workplace practices and working conditions. However, it is important you try and prevent the onset of this condition by adopting wrist-friendly working practices.
If you already have carpal tunnel syndrome, the treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms and pain. If possible, it is best to manage the symptoms without opting for surgery.
Steroid injections or pain medication can alleviate the inflammation. You can also wear wrist splints to maintain your wrist and hand in a neutral position. Above all, do not overextend your wrist. If everything fails to alleviate the painful symptoms, surgery will be necessary to ease the pressure on the nerve.
If you suffer with Carpal tunnel syndrome and you have any tips, advice, experiences or thoughts you’d like to share please leave a comment below.