Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most prevalent issue of the hand. Think of it as a “pins and needles” pain but on steroids – it is basically a pinched nerve in the wrist.
This condition is caused by a compressed nerve in the carpal tunnel, a narrow passage where the median nerve and nine tendons pass from the forearm into the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when swelling in this tunnel puts pressure on the nerve. It triggers numbness, tingling and other issues in the hand and arm.
Arthritis and fracture can contribute why a person will experience carpal tunnel syndrome. Ultimately, there can be many contributors including the anatomy of a person’s wrist, health problems and most probably repetitive hand motions.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As described, this condition is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which runs from your forearm through a passageway in your wrist to your hand. Anything that aggravates the median nerve can lead to this issue. This can happen in many ways, such as:
- Joint dislocations
- Swelling of the lining of the flexor tendons, called tenosynovitis
- Fluid build-up during pregnancy
Diabetes, thyroid conditions and rheumatoid arthritis are also associated with this condition. In many cases, there is no single cause for this syndrome. A combination of risk factors can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Issues associated with carpal tunnel syndrome usually start gradually. Oftentimes, there is numbness in the thumb, index and middle and ring fingers that comes and goes. Symptoms are mostly felt at night, but can also be noticed when performing your day to day activities such as typing, driving or even reading. In worse cases, there is a lost in sensation and arm strength. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also produce discomfort in wrist, the palm of your hand and even your arm, symptoms may include:
Tingling or Numbness
Usually the thumb, index, middle or ring fingers can be affected but not the little finger. You may notice the tingling and numbness in these fingers as well as your hand. Sometimes, there is an “electric shock” sensation which can travel from the fingers, through your wrist and up your arm. The shock sensation may be more pronounced during the night and can wake you from sleep. It can also occur during the day when holding objects. This numb sensation may become persistent over time and many people shake their hands to try to relieve the feeling.
You may have the tendency to drop object you are holding due to weakness in your hand. This symptom may be attributed to the numbness in your hand or weakness of the thumb muscles, both of which are also connected to the median nerve.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk Factors
Some factors have been linked with carpal tunnel syndrome. Several of these may not directly cause the condition, but they may increase the chances of irritating the median nerve damage such as:
This condition is found more commonly in women than men. It may be due to the fact that the carpal tunnel area is smaller in women. Those women that suffer from carpal tunnel also have smaller carpal tunnels compared to women who don’t have this issue.
Being overweight also poses more risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
A fractured or dislocated wrist can contribute to the pressure on the median nerve. People who have a smaller carpal tunnel than normal are also more likely to have this condition. Diabetes and some chronic illnesses also increase your risk of nerve damage.
Ailments and conditions that are characterized by inflammation (like rheumatoid arthritis), can irritate the lining around our wrist tendons and put pressure on your median nerve.
Balance of body fluids
If you are retaining fluids in your body, you also run the risk of increasing pressure within your carpal tunnel, which also means irritating the median nerve. This commonly occurs during pregnancy and menopause. Generally, carpal tunnel due to pregnancy resolves on its own after giving birth.
Working with vibrating tools or performing prolonged or repetitive actions on the wrist (such as in an assembly line) can create harmful pressure on your median nerve or worsening an existing nerve damage.
Other medical conditions
There are also certain conditions that can increase a person’s chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These include menopause, obesity, thyroid problems, and kidney disorders. On the other hand, studies are still conflicting over these factors. There have not been an established direct cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
No proven approaches have been found to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome but you can do these suggested methods so you can minimize stress on your hands:
- Relax your grip and reduce your force when performing daily, repetitive activities. For example, if you work as a cash register, you can hit the keys gently so you are putting less stress on your wrists. If you are writing for long hours, use a big pen with soft grip adapter and free-flowing ink.
- Take frequent breaks and alternate tasks when possible. Giving your hand and wrists some rests is principally important if you use tools or equipment that vibrates or one that requires you to exert a great amount of effort and force. To give your wrists a break, you can stretch and bend your hands periodically.
- Be aware of your form
Bending your wrist all the way up or down should be avoided. The best position is when your hand or wrist is at a relaxed middle position. Your keyboard should be at elbow height or slightly lower.
- Improve your posture
Improper posture not only affects your spine but also your hands, wrists and fingers. When you have a poor posture, your shoulders roll forward; shortening your neck and shoulder muscles and compressing nerves in your neck.
- Keep your hands warm
Pain in the hand and stiffness are more likely to develop if you are constantly exposed to cold environment. If you can’t avoid being in the cold, put on gloves so that you can keep your hands and wrists warm.