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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

30-Second-Summary
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome can sometimes be a very painful affliction of the hand and wrist that occurs when the median nerve becomes restricted and compressed in your wrist.
  • When compressed, the median nerve transmits a feeling of numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the thumb of the affected hand, the index and middle finger, and sometimes part of the ring finger.
  • It can cause tingling, numbness, and pain in your hand or fingers, which can make it hard to move them.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome can vary significantly from person to person and in severity at different times of the day.
  • The compression on the nerves that connect your fingers and hand can make them swell - cutting off sensation to those areas.
  • There are a few functional areas of carpal tunnel syndrome treatment, and some are more invasive than others.

Introduction

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful and restrictive condition that occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed at the bones in the wrist when the carpal tunnel is narrowed. The nerve transmits a feeling of numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the thumb of the affected hand, index finger, middle finger, and part of the ring finger. It can be associated with repetitive hand movements and other conditions like diabetes and obesity.

This article provides an overview of what carpal tunnel syndrome is all about; it also includes details about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options available to you.

So if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or have someone suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, read on further to discover more about what it means to you.

What Actually Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition whereby the median nerve[1] becomes compressed between bones in your affected wrist. It may cause tingling, numbness, and pain in your hand or fingers, which can make it hard to move them.

Carpal tunnel syndrome affects adults more than children because carpel tunnels are wider on adults’ wrists during puberty when growth hormone levels increase.

Common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:

  • Pain in your fingers, hand, or arm; numb hands
  • Tingling that starts slowly with pins and needles progressing into the full-on weakness of one side (usually the thumb) when gripping particular objects like kitchen utensils for too long
  • Difficulty moving muscles around the elbow area

Carpal tunnel syndrome can vary significantly from person to person and in severity at different times of the day, but what is for sure is that if you have CTS, at some point, you may experience some pain and reduced movement in the affected area.

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

People who are at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome may be those who people do daily repetitive hand activities, such as:

  • Hammering, drilling, or painting
  • Consistently working with hands, such as writers, surgeons, or office staff
  • Avid crafters, specifically those who knit, crochet, or do a lot of handworks

There are a few repetitive motions that can place people at a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, including:

  • High-force, common in laborers and construction operatives
  • Long-term use of the hands, such as professional joiners or decorators
  • Extreme wrist motions and vibrations are often found in landscape gardeners or sculpture artists

Other health factors can also contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome causes, including:

  • Heredity factors, such as smaller tunnels that run in families
  • A previous wrist fracture or dislocation or congenital or acquired hand or wrist deformity due to a birth defect, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout
  • Pregnancy, as extra pressure is placed on the carpal tunnel itself

What Can Cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Occurs
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the space (the carpal tunnel) in the wrist narrows. This presses down on nerves that connect your fingers and hand, making them swell – cutting off sensation to those areas.

Here are some common carpal tunnel syndrome causes:

1. Repetitive hand movements

An emphasis on wrist movements especially can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, including people who write or type repetitively.

Carpal tunnel can be more prominent if hand positioning is incorrect when carrying out the repetition and if frequent breaks are not taken from the tasks.

2. Obesity

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure comes from a buildup of fatty tissue[2] on the wrist and then compresses the median nerve, which then travels from your arm through your hand.

This can lead to severe numbness, tingling, and thumb joint pain, index finger, middle finger, and half of your ring finger. However, when weight is reduced, the discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can subside.

3. Arthritis

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition, resulting from inflammation in the median nerve at the wrist. Among the carpal tunnel syndrome causes, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are among the most common inflammatory conditions in their design.

The pain and numbness are some of the most frustrating carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms induced by arthritic conditions.

4. Diabetes

If you have diabetes, it may cause nerve damage, leading to inflammation within the nerves and numbness, especially in the extremities such as the fingers.

If you have diabetes[3], your risk of nerve damage is heightened due to the level of sugar in your blood. This can lead to inflammation within nerves, which causes numbness or tingling sensations that may cause carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms Of Having Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Symptoms Of Having Carpal
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can vary from person to person. While some people may feel a slight and infrequent tingle, others may feel a debilitating pain with consistent numbness, lack of sensation, and decreased movement.

The common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Numbness and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and part of the ring finger – This can get progressively worse when you complete the task or tasks that likely contributed to its development.
  • Feeling that the hand is asleep – This is often experienced when you lean on a nerve. It temporarily cuts off the blood supply and nerve sensation to the attached extremity. It can be a consistent numbness and lack of sensation in carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Sensitivity to light touch – Carpal tunnel syndrome can be extremely painful to even the most delicate touch. This can make working with your hand very painful indeed and make gloves or dressing yourself feel more like a pain marathon.
  • Burning sensations in the palm of your hand – This can occur as a byproduct of the lack of feeling and numbness in that your hand and wrist area will try and compensate for the pain distribution elsewhere, which may result in pain radiating as heat through the palms of your affected hands.
  • Pain at night from sleeping on your hands – Sleeping on your hands may cause exacerbation with those who have carpal tunnel syndrome as it increases the pressure already there, making nighttime more painful and restrictive for those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treatment For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment For Carpal Tunnel
There are a few effective areas of carpal tunnel syndrome treatment, and some are more invasive than others. The correct treatment will be discussed with you by your physician, concerning the signs and symptoms you display and their severity.

These can include:

1. Anti-inflammatory medications

NSAIDs, which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs[4], reduce the swelling and wrist pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. An over-the-counter NSAID is enough for most patients who suffer from the condition to control their carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

These medications can be prescribed long-term if they are suitable for you and include medications, such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen.

2. Splinting

Wrist splints are a piece of breathable fabric equipment used to help patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. They stabilize the wrist in a straight and sometimes slightly bent-back position, which minimizes pressure on the median nerve, allowing them more “rest” from activities that aggravate this condition.

3. Cortisone injections

Cortisone injections[5] are steroid injections for treating pain, swelling, and pressure in the carpal tunnel.

Cortisone is a viable option for those who have failed other treatments or cannot take other medications because there may be side effects.

Suppose an individual has not been able to find relief from their symptoms with medication. In that case, it becomes essential that they get this injection into these painful joints as soon as possible before irreversible damage occurs due to inflammation and spasm.

4. Physical therapy

A physical therapist can help you reduce your pain, increase mobility, and enable you to regain strength by recommending exercises that focus on nerves and tendons.

These types of exercises are called gliding exercises because they slide the hand or other body part around a joint to increase blood circulation, which reduces stress on muscles while simultaneously, easing tension through connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons.

5. Surgery

There are two main types of carpal tunnel release surgery: open and endoscopic.

In both cases, your doctor cuts the ligament around the carpal tunnel to take pressure off the median nerve and relieve your symptoms.

After surgery, the ligament comes back together with more space for a greater passage of nerve signals – either through an incision (Open) or through a tiny cut that is made on each side (Endoscopic).

Your doctor will help determine which carpal tunnel syndrome treatment option is best for you and your symptoms.

How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome From Occurring?

There are some preventative measures you can take to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome or a flare-up of an existing condition, such as:

  • Keep your hands warm
  • Improve your posture
  • Take regular hand breaks
  • Keep inflammation low
  • Make regular hand exercises part of your day
  • Reduce the vigorous element of your tasks

Conclusion

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an ailment where the median nerve becomes compressed between bones in your wrist. The compression causes tingling, numbness, and pain in your hand or fingers, making it hard to move them.

It affects adults more than children because carpel tunnels are wider on adults’ wrists during puberty when growth hormone levels increase.

Common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include aching hands with pins and needles progressing into weakness (usually the thumb) while gripping particular objects like utensils for too long.

You may have difficulty moving muscles around the elbow area, and this can vary significantly from person to person but what’s certain is that if you have CTS at some point, you will experience some pain and reduced movement in the affected area!

There are many routes of treatment available for those who have this debilitating condition; however, the more conservative routes of care are always the best ones to explore before moving on to some of the more invasive and surgical options of carpal tunnel relief.

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