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Do not presume that information is meant for you if you have not seen the doctor
and received a specific diagnosis. Some conditions share similar symptoms but
require very different treatment. If you have friends or family who may have
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CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the
forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median
nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although
not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the
hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The carpal tunnel - a narrow,
rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand ¾ houses
the median nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons
or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed.
The result may be pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating
up the arm. Although painful sensations may indicate other conditions, carpal
tunnel syndrome is the most common and widely known of the entrapment neuropathies
in which the body's peripheral nerves are compressed or traumatized.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
|Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or
itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the
thumb and the index and middle fingers. Some carpal tunnel sufferers say
their fingers feel useless and swollen, even though little or no swelling
is apparent. The symptoms often first appear in one or both hands during
the night, since many people sleep with flexed wrists. A person with carpal
tunnel syndrome may wake up feeling the need to "shake out" the hand or
wrist. As symptoms worsen, people might feel tingling during the day. Decreased
grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects,
or perform other manual tasks. In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles
at the base of the thumb may waste away. Some people are unable to tell
between hot and cold by touch.
What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that
increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather
than a problem with the nerve itself. Most likely the disorder is due to a congenital
predisposition - the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in
others. Other contributing factors include trauma or injury to the wrist that
cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; overactivity of the pituitary gland;
hypothyroidism; rheumatoid arthritis; mechanical problems in the wrist joint;
work stress; repeated use of vibrating hand tools; fluid retention during pregnancy
or menopause; or the development of a cyst or tumor in the canal. In some cases
no cause can be identified.
There is little clinical data to prove whether repetitive and
forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can
cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Repeated motions performed in the course of normal
work or other daily activities can result in repetitive motion disorders such
as bursitis and tendonitis. Writer's cramp - a condition in which a lack of
fine motor skill coordination and ache and pressure in the fingers, wrist, or
forearm is brought on by repetitive activity - is not a symptom of carpal tunnel
How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome should begin as early as possible, under
a doctor's direction. Underlying causes such as diabetes or arthritis should
be treated first. Initial treatment generally involves resting the affected
hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms,
and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting
or bending. If there is inflammation, applying cool packs can help reduce swelling.
Traction - has proven to be the best treatment for carpal tunnel. Computerized
axial distraction applied to the wrist combined with electrical stimulation
and manipulation have been shown to reduce the compression and relieve the pressure
on the nerves. Treatment can be effective in as little as two weeks but may
require life style or habit changes.
Exercise - Stretching and strengthening exercises can be
helpful in people whose symptoms have abated. These exercises may be supervised
by a physical therapist, who is trained to use exercises to treat physical impairments,
or an occupational therapist, who is trained in evaluating people with physical
impairments and helping them build skills to improve their health and well-being.
Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures
in the United States. Generally recommended if symptoms last for 6 months, surgery
involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on
the median nerve. Surgery is done under local anesthesia and does not require
an overnight hospital stay. Many patients require surgery on both hands. The
following are types of carpal tunnel release surgery:
How can carpal tunnel syndrome be prevented?
At the workplace, workers can do on-the-job conditioning, perform stretching
exercises, take frequent rest breaks, wear splints to keep wrists straight,
and use correct posture and wrist position. Wearing fingerless gloves can help
keep hands warm and flexible. Workstations, tools and tool handles, and tasks
can be redesigned to enable the worker's wrist to maintain a natural position
during work. Jobs can be rotated among workers. Employers can develop programs
in ergonomics, the process of adapting workplace conditions and job demands
to the capabilities of workers. However, research has not conclusively shown
that these workplace changes prevent the occurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome.