You’ve probably heard the term, carpal tunnel syndrome, but do you actually know what it means?
There is a median nerve that runs through your forearm, and when this becomes squeezed or pinched at the wrist, you have CTS. This nerve is what controls the sensations of feeling and touch to your thumb and all of your fingers, except the pinky.
And if you’re wondering how the syndrome got its name, the passageway that the median nerve runs through is called the carpal tunnel, which is located at the base of the hand. Compression of the nerve can occur when nearby tendons are irritated or swell up to narrow the tunnel, resulting in numbness, pain, weakness, and/or discomfort in the wrist and hand, extending up the arm.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
Some things to watch out for that could alert you to your carpal tunnel problems are itching, tingling, burning, or numbness in your hands and/or fingers, most commonly the thumb index and middle fingers. Some patients even describe their fingers having a heavy and swollen feeling, without much actual swelling visible to the naked eye.
Other symptoms include weakness when doing everyday tasks like gripping objects or shaking hands, taking even farther in more serious cases where some of the muscles in the hand start to waste away. Sometimes the resulting numbness can result in a loss of sensation and inability to distinguish between hot and cold.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There isn’t any one cause of CTS, and there isn’t even much data to support the widely-believed notion that long hours spent typing at a keyboard is one of the most common causes. More often than not, the problem begins from a combination of issues that cause swelling around the median nerve. Genetic predispositions are even at work here, as some people have a smaller carpal tunnel than others, allowing for even less room for swelling and inflammation. Aside from general swelling, water retention during menstruation or pregnancy can be enough to trigger the symptoms.
Are You At High-Risk?
Speaking of menstruation and pregnancy, women develop carpal tunnel cases three times more than men on average. This could likely be a result of women naturally having smaller canals, which, again, allows for less breathing room in the carpal tunnel. It’s very rare for children to develop CTS, but anyone with a nerve disorder is at increased risk, due to more sensitivity to swelling and nerve damage in general. And to further debunk the keyboard typing myth, data shows carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more likely to occur among assembly line workers than among heavy computer users that stay on the machine for up to seven hours per day.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosis
As with any health condition, the sooner you are diagnosed, the better your chances for a full and fast recovery, avoiding any permanent muscle or nerve damage. You will be examined by hand to determine if your symptoms are indicative of CTS or more common use injuries. In addition to feeling the afflicted areas for signs of tenderness and swelling, each finger will be tested for any loss of sensation through simple temperature tests. There are also a few tests designed specifically to bring on CTS symptoms, in which the doctors uses pressure and hand positions to look for tingling and/or numbness. You can help the doctor in this regard if you already know a position that usually makes your symptoms worse.
If carpal tunnel syndrome can still not be ruled out, then finally electrodes can be used to test the responsiveness of your median nerve directly, confirming whether or not your symptoms are a result of CTS.
Carpal Tunnel Release
The first and most common method for carpal tunnel relief is simply resting the affected areas, which may mean taking time off from work, as the hands are used extensively in almost every profession. After resting for up to two weeks, the doctor will begin massage the problem spots to break up scar tissue and help your body start repairing the damage.
During carpal tunnel syndrome treatment, if swelling and inflammation continues, using ice packs to bring it back down will speed up recovery.