What you Need to Know About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

With office jobs, paying online bills, and clicking through Facebook, the average American adult spends about 8.5 hours per day in front of a screen. All the clacking on a keyboard can lead to what is called carpal tunnel syndrome. Because it mostly affects people over the age of nineteen, men who are over twenty-five should know their facts.

Question: What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful numbness and tingling sensation in the hand and arm due to the pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. This syndrome is very common, affecting more than three million Americans every year. Because carpal tunnel syndrome worsens overtime, early diagnosis and treatment are key.

Question: What are the carpal tunnel and median nerve exactly?

Answer: The carpal tunnel is a thin passage, measuring approximately an inch wide, set in the wrist. Its function is to protect the median nerve and flexor tendons. The floor and sides of the tunnel are made up of small wrist bones called carpal bones, and the top of the tunnel is composed of the transverse carpal ligament, a strong band of connective tissue. This tunnel doesn’t have much room to stretch or expand because its boundaries are extremely rigid.

The median nerve is one of the hand’s main nerves, which originates as a group of nerve roots located in the neck. These nerves form a single nerve in the arm, running down the arm and forearm, passing the carpal tunnel in the wrist, and into your hand. This nerve allows feeling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers, as well as controlling the muscles around the base of the thumb. Flexor tendons are comprised of the nine tendons that control the bending of fingers and thumb which go through the carpal tunnel as well.

Question: How does one get carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: The issue arises when the tunnel becomes thinner or when the tissues around the flexor tendons, called the synovium, begin to swell, thus placing weight on the median nerve. The synovium lubricates these tendons, so it’s easier to move the fingers. If it swells, it overcrowds the carpal tunnel and eventually the nerve, causing pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand.

Question: What are the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: A combination of different factors lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. First, studies claim older people are more likely to develop the condition. Heredity is a crucial factor because a smaller than average carpal tunnel is a trait that may run in the family.

Repetitive hand use, such as in working with a computer all day, can aggravate the tendons in the wrist, resulting in the swelling that will put heaviness on the median nerve. The position of your hand and wrist also matter, especially over a prolonged period of time. Certain health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid gland imbalance, and rheumatoid arthritis are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Question: What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: Apart from the obvious numbing/tingling pain in the fingers, there are symptoms specific to this problem. One is occasionally feeling a sensation similar to an electrical shock in your fingers. This pain or tingling can affect your shoulder as well since these nerves run up and down your forearm.

Additionally, shaky or overall loss of control of fine hand movements, such as buttoning your shirt, may be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. Dropping things is also common due to this weakness, or the inability to identify where your hand is in space. These symptoms may come and go at first but will gradually increase in frequency. Moving or shaking your hand can help relieve these symptoms.

Question: What kind of examinations exist for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: During your physical examination, definitely bring up your symptoms to the doctor. Then he or she will take a close look at your hand and perform some physical tests, such as pressing/tapping at the median nerve, bending your wrist in a flexed position, check for weakness in muscles, etc. These will all judge the pressure, sensitivity, and damage in the carpal tunnel and flexor tendons.

Your doctor might want to try an electrophysiological test, which will help determine whether there is too much pressure on the nerve. While checking if the median nerve is working properly, this type of examination will detect other nerve conditions that may explain symptoms. These tests might include nerve conduction studies, electromyograms (EMGs), ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) or X-rays.

Question: How can one treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

Answer: It’s important to note carpal tunnel syndrome will get worse without treatment. If you start experiencing symptoms, you should not let it pass. See your doctor immediately for evaluation so you can catch it early. If diagnosed and treated early, the syndrome can be relieved without surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments are given to those with mild symptoms. One is wearing brace or splint while performing activities that can worsen symptoms as well as at night when you may unknowingly bend your wrist. Medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help lessen pain and inflammation. It always helps to reduce the activity that is aggravating the symptoms too.

If these treatments don’t help, your doctor might recommend surgery to prevent permanent damage to your thumb muscles. If you have ethical dilemmas with surgery, talk to your doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of certain techniques. The procedure is called a “carpal tunnel release,” which aims to cut the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel, therefore increasing the size of the tunnel and decreasing the pressure on the median nerve.

Elevating your hand above your heart and moving your fingers is crucial for relieving the post-procedure pain and swelling. Recovery is gradual, taking a year at most. You may have to wear a brace or splint and limit certain activities that use your wrist (such as grip and pinch). The chances you will get carpal tunnel syndrome is rare.

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