What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a condition that occurs when pressure is applied on the median nerve and causes sensations of numbness, tingling or weakness in the hand. The pressure on the median nerve runs along the length of the arm and passes through a passage in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel. The median nerve is responsible for controlling the movement of your thumb and fingers, except for the little finger.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
When experiencing CTS in its early stages, you may notice your hands feeling numb as well as a tingling sensation that runs along your shoulder. Symptoms could be worsened when holding heavy objects or bending your wrist. Many have reported that shaking their hands may relieve symptoms, but this doesn’t always make the numbness go away completely.
When CTS symptoms start to worsen, you might find yourself being unable to have a strong grip when holding objects as the muscles in your hand start to shrink. You may also experience muscle cramping and pain.
Other common CTS symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness in your fingers and/or hand
- Weak hands
- Shock-like sensations in your fingers
- Burning or itching sensations in your palm, thumb, or index and middle fingers
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is known to be caused by pressure on the median nerve, but it may be hard to determine what actually causes this pressure. Common causes include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Repetitive movements such as typing
Essentially, any factor that squeezes or irritates the median nerve can lead to CTS. Wrist fractures can also narrow the carpal tunnel, as well as rheumatoid arthritis can cause swelling and inflammation.
There are various factors that have been related to carpal tunnel syndrome over the years. These may not directly cause CTS, but do increase the risk of damage to the median nerve. Risk factors include:
- Wrist fractures or dislocation
- Arthritis that deforms small bones in the wrist
- Gender; CTS is more common in women as the carpal tunnel area is smaller in women than in men
- Chronic illnesses such as diabetes
- Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Medications such as anastrozole which is used to treat breast cancer
- Thyroid disorders or kidney failure
- Workplace conditions that require prolonged and repetitive movement of the wrist, such as typing
How Can You Diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
When CTS symptoms develop and start to become unbearable, it is recommended that you visit a doctor. They may conduct tests such as:
- Electromyograms, during which doctors will place a thin electrode into your muscle to measure its electrical activity
- Nerve conduction studies to measure the signals in the nerves of your arm and hand
- Ultrasound to look at your tissues and bones
Treatment and Prevention
- Make changes to your daily life to avoid repetitive and strenuous wrist movements
- Exercise and stretch more often to help nerves and muscles move better on a daily basis
- Wear a splint if your doctor has advised you to prevent your wrist from moving too much
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections to help reduce swelling and inflammation
- If treatments don’t pan out, you may be recommended to undergo surgery to increase the size of your carpal tunnel and ease pressure on your median nerve
There are various preventative measures you could take to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Using a splint to keep your wrist in a neutral position
- Keeping your wrists straight
- Keeping your hands and wrists warm
Taking frequent breaks from activities that cause strain to your wrists and fingers.