Many people often ignore tingling or numbness in the hands or wrists, until a sharp, stabbing pain shoots through them and up the arm.
It is most likely carpal tunnel syndrome. But what is this condition? what are your causes? can it be treated? Get the answers to these questions and more here.
What is carpal tunnel?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligaments and bones at the base of the hand that contains nerves and tendons. Sometimes the thickening of irritated tendons or other swollen structures narrow the tunnel and cause compression of the nerves.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand and controls sensations in the palmar side of the thumb and fingers, becomes compressed or pinched at the wrist.
Symptoms usually begin gradually. As they get worse, holding objects can become difficult.
What are the causes?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is usually due to a combination of factors:
- congenital predisposition.
- Trauma or injury to the wrist.
- Sprain or fracture.
- Overactivity of the pituitary gland.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Mechanical problems in the wrist joint.
- Work stress.
- Repetitive use of vibrating hand tools.
- Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause.
- Development of a cyst or tumor in the canal.
However, in some cases no cause can be identified.
Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel can be smaller in some women than in men. The dominant hand is usually affected first and produces the most severe pain.
What are your symptoms?
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins with frequent burning, tingling, or itchy numbness in the palm and fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The fingers may feel useless and swollen, even when the swelling is not apparent.
Symptoms often first appear in one or both hands at night, since sleeping with flexed wrists is common.
The person may wake up with the need to shake the hand or wrist. It is also common:
- Tingling during the day.
- Decrease in grip strength.
- Difficulty picking up small objects.
- Problems performing other manual tasks.
- In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb become atrophied, and some people may even lose the sensation of hot/cold to the touch.
How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?
Treatments should begin as soon as possible, as directed by the doctor. Underlying causes like diabetes or arthritis need to be treated first.
Initial treatment usually involves resting the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist with a splint to prevent further damage from twisting or bending.
If there is inflammation, applying an ice pack can help reduce swelling. You can also choose to:
Various drugs can relieve the pain and swelling caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter pain relievers, can relieve symptoms that have been present for a short time or were caused by strenuous activity.
Oral diuretics can decrease inflammation. Just remember not to take or stop any medication without first consulting your doctor.
Stretching and strengthening exercises may be helpful in people whose symptoms have lessened or ended.
Acupuncture and chiropractic have benefited some people with carpal tunnel syndrome, helping to reduce pain and inflammation, although more studies are needed to prove their effectiveness.
Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. Surgery is generally recommended if symptoms last for six months or if there is evidence of muscle damage.
This involves cutting the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve, is performed under local anesthesia, and does not require an overnight hospital stay.
How can it be prevented?
Although there are many ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, experts agree that it is best to work on prevention.
In the workplace, employees can do activity conditioning, perform stretching exercises, take frequent breaks, wear splints to keep their wrists straight, and use proper wrist posture and positioning.
Wearing fingerless gloves can help keep your hands warm and flexible. Workstations, tools and tool and task handles can be redesigned to allow the wrist and hand to maintain a natural position. Also, activities can be rotated.
The researchers point out that lately, the abuse of technological devices has increased the number of people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, so it is advisable to use them in moderation.
Source consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.