Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common and painful condition that affects millions of people each year. Despite its high occurrence rate, there are still many misconceptions about this condition and how it should be treated.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome? Your carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway, or tunnel, in your wrist that houses a main nerve to your hand as well as several tendons. If the tissues surrounding these tendons get inflamed, they may put pressure on the nerve, causing the classic symptoms of carpal tunnel. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and thumb, as well as pain that travels from the hand up the arm. Over time, it can lead to weakness in your hand. Learn the facts about this condition and how you can help prevent it.
- Carpal tunnel is not strictly a repetitive motion problem. Although it is possible that repeated hand movements can lead to carpal tunnel, there are many other proven causes of this condition. Heredity is the most important factor, as a smaller sized carpal tunnel may be more easily inflamed than a larger one. Small carpal tunnels may run in families, so if your parent had carpal tunnel syndrome, you are at an increased risk of getting it. It is also more common in women (again, perhaps because of smaller size), pregnant women, and older adults. Other medical conditions can also trigger carpal tunnel syndrome, including rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid issues, and diabetes. Injuries to the wrist, such as a fracture, can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
- If left untreated, carpal tunnel can lead to permanent damage to your thumb muscles. If you have symptoms of carpal tunnel, talk with your physician. He or she may run some tests and help determine what is causing your symptoms, with the goal of treating the problem as early as possible for a better long-term prognosis.
- It’s not always treated with surgery. If you seek treatment in its early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome may be effectively treated with non-surgical options. Your physician may recommend a brace or splint to help keep your wrist in a neutral position, anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen, and activity modification. If surgery is recommended, the outcome is typically positive and many people can return to normal activity, being careful not to put repetitive strain on the hands or wrists.
- You can reduce your risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome by losing weight if you’re overweight, and by making sure you use correct ergonomics when working or doing daily tasks. Don’t bend, extend, or twist your hands and wrists repeatedly, and take regular breaks from hand movements. Use good posture in your back and shoulders, and switch hands when possible. Finally, keep your hands warm with fingerless gloves if they tend to get cold.
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Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.