Among many adults, the development of pain, tingling sensations, and numbness in one hand can be bothersome. Even though there are many possible causes for the pain, it could be an early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The condition, which affects the hand, has become increasingly common. In most cases, it can cause weakness, pain, or numbness in the hand, sometimes extending to the wrist. You may be able to manage the condition with lifestyle modifications, such as the use of splints or braces, but surgery is the last resort in severe cases.
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A Close Look At Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops if significant pressure impedes the wrist, specifically the median nerve. Its role is to supply your fingers with sensation, from the thumb to the half segment of your ring finger. The narrowing of the carpal tunnel will press on the median nerve and tendons, which may result in swelling and disrupt the sensation in your hand and fingers.
Remember that anyone can develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Over time, it has been assumed that only people who work in the manufacturing or office sectors are more susceptible to the condition. Unfortunately, it can affect those who constantly utilize both hands and wrists at work or play. Moreover, the tendency to develop carpal tunnel syndrome increases as one ages.
The signs of carpal tunnel syndrome can show at any time. Some initial symptoms include nighttime numbness and tingling or discomfort in the fingers’ thumb, index, and middle.
The symptoms may appear at night, especially in people who frequently sleep with curled wrists. Most claim that shaking hands can help lessen the symptoms during the early phase of the condition.
During the daytime, some of the common symptoms that may manifest include:
- Prick-like feeling in the fingers
- Diminished sensation in the tips of the fingers
- Difficulty using the hand for writing, handling small-sized objects, typing on a keyboard, or grasping a car’s steering wheel
As carpal tunnel syndrome progresses, the symptoms will also increase in intensity. It can result in general weakness, dropping objects, and the inability to perform tasks requiring fine movements. In severe cases, the muscles situated at the base of the thumb will shrink in size.
Various contributing factors can lead to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome, and they differ for each person. According to one source, women are more at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
A person faces a high chance of experiencing the symptoms if the following factors are present:
- Repetitive and excessive use of the hand and wrist, especially in extreme motions: When your hands and wrist go through repetitive motions or activities for long periods, it’s likely to aggravate the tendons, resulting in inflammation that presses on the nerve. Subjecting both the hand and wrist to unnecessarily extreme motions for long periods places significant pressure on the nerve.
- Diagnosed with certain medical conditions: When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, thyroid imbalances, and rheumatoid arthritis, it can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Genetics: Among the various factors, hereditary may be a crucial factor that tends to run in families. In some individuals, the carpal tunnel may be innately smaller, or there are structural variances in the available space for the nerve.
- Pregnancy: The hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy result in swelling that can impede the nerves.
As you can see, several factors influence whether someone has a high risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
How A Doctor Assesses A Person For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Once you experience pain or tingling in your hand, it may be carpal tunnel syndrome. However, consulting a doctor is the best way to confirm this condition.
During your appointment, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and conduct an assessment. As part of the assessment, your doctor will require several tests to be carried out, which may include the following:
- Tinel’s test. During this test, the doctor will tap over the location of the median nerve at the wrist to know if it produces a tingling sensation in the fingers.
- Phalen’s test for wrist flexion. The patient’s elbow is placed on a surface, like a table, and the doctor allows the wrist to fall forward naturally. The distinctive tingling and numbness arise within a minute if the person has carpal tunnel syndrome.
- X-ray. The doctor will request an X-ray of the wrist, especially in cases involving limited wrist movement or indications of trauma or arthritis.
- Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies. These tests aim to learn how the median nerve functions and how it can regulate muscle motion.
The doctor will conduct these tests to determine if a person has carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are non-surgical and surgical interventions in the management of carpal tunnel syndrome. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks, which you need to be familiar with.
Generally, non-surgical measures are suitable for minor cases and allow you to continue your daily activities without disruption. The surgical approach may be the only choice in the most severe cases, but it usually has a good chance of success.
1. Non-surgical Management
The non-surgical treatment options are typically first suggested by the doctor. Using a splint or brace at night helps prevent wrist bending while sleeping. Maintaining the wrist in a neutral or straight position helps lessen the pressure on the nerve. You can also wear a splint during the daytime, especially when engaging in activities that worsen the symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. A steroid or corticosteroid injection can be injected directly into the carpal tunnel and is a potent agent that lessens inflammation. Most are capable of reducing the symptoms or flare-ups.
The other treatment options mainly focus on measures to modify your daily routine. Generally, it’s often implemented in the workplace, such as:
- Adjusting your chair by lowering or raising its position and the keyboard if you work on computer-related tasks all day long
- Wearing the recommended splints
- Modifying the position of your hand and wrist while doing repetitive, work-related tasks
These modifications can provide temporary relief or minimize the risk of acquiring carpal tunnel syndrome.
2. Surgical Management
The doctor suggests surgical treatment if the patient fails to respond to non-surgical treatments or if the condition has already progressed to a severe state. The surgery aims to widen the carpal tunnel’s size to lessen the pressure on the median nerve and tendons passing through the space. Generally, it involves cutting or releasing the transverse carpal ligament covering the carpal tunnel at the base of the palm.
If surgery is the only option for you, expect the following:
- The doctor administers local anesthesia or a pain-numbing medication.
- The discomfort will likely last 24 to 72 hours after the procedure. Most typically experience full relief of any discomfort a day after the surgery.
- The removal of the stitches is usually within 10 to 14 days after the procedure.
- Avoid heavy or strenuous activities involving the hand, ideally for four to six weeks. In most cases, the recovery period may vary depending on your general health, age, duration of the symptoms, and the severity of the condition.
- Undergo exercise programs to restore your hand and wrist function steadily. Generally, most are able to regain normal sensation and strength a year after the surgical procedure.
The main advantage of undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is the significant relief it provides to the symptoms.
Measures To Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
It’s good to know there are various measures to prevent the narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the first place. However, some find it challenging due to many activities in their daily routine, making it hard to pinpoint which one is responsible.
A good place to start is by modifying your workspace by implementing proper hand and wrist positioning or adjusting your chair. Other preventive measures to keep in mind that may help lower your risk for the condition include:
- Maintain your wrists in a straight position while sleeping or when using tools.
- Avoid or limit engaging in repetitive tasks or motions that extend and curl the wrists.
- Observe frequent breaks from repetitive tasks or activities.
- Perform proper stretching and conditioning exercises before and after, especially in sports activities.
If you want to prevent or lower your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, it may be best to keep in mind these preventive measures.
Engaging in repetitive tasks involving the hand in work, sports, or even hobbies can put one at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. A person is likely to develop one due to various factors, including increasing age. For many individuals, carpal tunnel syndrome can be managed using non-surgical measures. However, surgical intervention may be the only option in severe cases where other measures fail to work. Luckily, most of the non-surgical and surgical management outcomes are positive. Many individuals can resume daily activities with a low chance of the recurrence of the symptoms.