What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), also called median nerve compression, is a common condition that affects millions of people every year. CTS is painful and often misunderstood, so let’s go over some of the particulars about carpal tunnel and how it is diagnosed and treated.
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops because of pressure on the median nerve, which runs the length of your arm. The nerve goes through a passage in your wrist (called the carpal tunnel) and finally, it ends in your hand. The carpal tunnel not only houses the median nerve but several tendons as well. The median nerve controls the movement of your thumb and all fingers but your pinky as well. If the tissue surrounding the tendons in your wrist or arm get inflamed, it puts pressure on the median nerve which then starts causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel?
- Numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and thumb
- Burning or itching in your palm and thumb or your index and middle fingers
- Weakness in your hand and trouble holding things
- Shock-like feeling that move into your fingers
- Tingling that moves up into your arm
What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?
A lot of the misconceptions of carpal tunnel syndrome results from the assumption that it is just an injury you develop from not positioning your wrist correctly while typing or using your mouse. While doing so can contribute to your carpal tunnel symptoms becoming worse, the swelling and inflammation of the median nerve is the root cause of the issue.
Several other conditions are linked with causing or exacerbating symptoms, to include thyroid issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, as well as trauma to the wrist (like a sprain/fracture or an overactive pituitary gland).
There are other factors that can cause your carpal tunnel to worsen, such as repetitive strain on your wrists from overextending or water retention while pregnant.
How can you treat carpal tunnel syndrome?
You should start treating your carpal tunnel as early as possible to avoid unnecessary or avoidable complications down the line. Make sure to speak with a qualified orthopedist about your treatment options.
Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter drugs, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are medications that can ease the pain and swelling. Prescription drugs like prednisone or lidocaine have also been shown to help with mild to intermittent symptoms. Both over-the-counter and prescribed don’t cure CTS, but they may help alleviate discomfort.
- Wearing a splint (typically worn at night).
- Treatment of any underlying conditions you may have, such as diabetes or arthritis.
- Avoiding activities that provoke symptoms or limiting your time doing the activities if unavoidable.
Surgical treatment options include:
- Open release surgery, a procedure that consists of making the carpal tunnel larger.
- Endoscopic surgery, in which the surgeon inserts a camera in the wrist and cuts the transverse carpal ligament.
Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. Always talk to your orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon before making any major decisions on the treatment of your CTS.
Are there any preventative measures I can take?
There’s no exact way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but you can attempt to reduce stress and strain on your hands and wrists as much as possible to keep it from getting worse. Make sure to take breaks from work, keep your office as ergonomic as possible and be conscious of your body. In addition, managing other risk factors such as preexisting health conditions that have been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome is recommended.
Manage Your Carpal Tunnel The Right Way
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