Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What You Need to Know

Hand aches, weakness, tingles and pains – those are just some of the symptoms of a debilitating condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome, that is estimated to affect three to six per cent of the adult population. 

The good news is that it’s treatable and if dealt with early enough, you can make a full recovery.

But as always, prevention is better than cure. So, in addition to talking you through what carpal tunnel syndrome is and what signs to watch out for, I’ll be sharing a few tips and tricks to help you ward it off for as long as possible.

If you’re already dealing with it, don’t worry, this article is still for you! Because I’ll also be dishing out some hacks that can make your recovery a bit smoother.

 

What exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome and how can I tell if I have it?

Simply put, carpal tunnel syndrome or CTS is a condition caused by pressure being put on a nerve in your wrist called the median nerve. This nerve is found in the part of your wrist known as the carpal tunnel, and it runs from your forearms to your palms.

When this nerve is compressed, it can cause you to experience the symptoms described above as well as feelings of numbness and swelling.

Photo by Markus Spiske

In the earlier stages of CTS, symptoms tend to come and go, usually at night. As the condition progresses, symptoms start to become more frequent and start to appear during the day. People with CTS may also feel unable to grip objects with the affected hand.

If left untreated, CTS can cause the muscles on the base of your thumb to waste away, so it’s important to see a doctor as soon as you suspect you might have the syndrome.

Only a doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms and give you the right treatment.

 

Why do people get it?

It’s often unknown why someone develops CTS and narrowing it down to one cause can be hard. But there are things that can increase your risk for it, such as:

– Injury from hand overuse;        – Having diabetes;

– Having a wrist fracture;            – Being pregnant;

– Having arthritis;                        – Going through menopause.

– Being older;

Women also have a three-times higher risk of developing CTS than men. This is thought to be because women tend to have a smaller carpal tunnel.

 

Is it preventable?

While there’s not a lot you can do about your risk for CTS when it comes to your natural hand structure or the way it changes with age or pregnancy, there are some everyday things you can do to lower your chance of developing the condition, such as:

– Keeping your wrist in a neutral position: Your wrist is in a neutral position when the hand is aligned with the wrist. This means that it is neither flexed (the top-facing part is sticking out because your hand is angled downwards) nor extended (the palm-facing part is sticking out because your hand is angled upwards). Keeping your wrist in a neutral position as often as possible is an effective way to reduce your risk of developing CTS.

– Keeping your back straight: Rolling your shoulders and hunching your back can cause pressure to be added to your arms which can also increase your CTS risk.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

– Reducing the strain on your hands: Ideally, you should avoid tasks that require you to contort your

hands for long periods of time. But if you can’t, try to slowly increase the time you spend doing them and take breaks often. Keeping objects like your phone or computer at comfortable distances while using them can also help reduce the strain on your wrists, so bear that in mind before your next texting marathon. Plus, loosening your grip when holding your phone (or any other handheld objects) can also help lessen the strain.

– Monitoring your sleep positioning: Sleeping on your hands (especially when your wrists are in a non-neutral position) can increase your CTS risk, so it’s important to pay attention to your hand positioning at bedtime. If your hands have already started to feel numb or tingly, experts advise purchasing a hand brace to wear to bed.

 

I have CTS – now what?

If you’ve been diagnosed with CTS, make sure you follow the treatment plan given to you by your doctor.

Usually, your doctor will start you off on conservative treatment and prescribe a splint or a brace. You might even be offered a steroid injection to reduce the swelling.

Depending on the seriousness of your condition, your doctor might decide to refer you for surgery.

As far as what you can do yourself, purchasing over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen can help reduce any pain or inflammation you might be experiencing. Using a cold compress for your wrist can also help.

And last but certainly not least, following the prevention tips listed above can also stop your condition from getting worse and help your recovery.

I hope you found this brief-ish rundown on CTS to be helpful. As always, don’t forget to share your CTS-related experiences and hacks with our community in the comments!

 


Written by: Tesneem Ayoub 

Sources:

1-  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/
2-  https://www.verywellhealth.com/a-look-at-carpal-tunnel-syndrome-2564578
3-  https://medlineplus.gov/carpaltunnelsyndrome.html#cat_51
4-  https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet#3049_5
5-  https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0415/p952.html


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