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What Is Carpal Tunnel: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What Is Carpal Tunnel: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Apria Editorial |

Carpal tunnel syndrome was originally described in the mid-1800s, and the first surgery was conducted in the 1930s. According to the Rheumatology Research Foundation, up to ten million Americans are affected by CTS today. The carpal tunnel is a wrist cavity made up of carpal bones and ligament.

The median nerve sends motor and sensory signals to the three middle fingers and thumb. If this area becomes compressed or inflamed, you will begin experiencing symptoms. In this guide, you will discover more about carpal tunnel syndrome, including some of the causes, symptoms, and risk factors, as well as treatment options to relieve tingling, numbness, and pain.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

A common condition that causes sensations of tingling, numbness, and discomfort in the forearm and hand. The problem develops when the main nerve, the median, gets compressed or pinched as it passes through the wrist.

Most patients report that the syndrome worsens over time. If left untreated, it may result in irreversible hand dysfunction, including less feeling. As a result, it is essential to detect and treat as soon as possible.

What Are Common Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms?

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Tingling, burning, numbness, or discomfort in the fingers and thumb that can sometimes cause sleep disruption
  • Shock-like sensations that spread to the fingers
  • Tingling sensations or pain that travels up the forearm toward the shoulder
  • Clumsiness and hand weakness
  • Dropping objects or inability to grasp objects as a result of numbness, weakness, or a lack of proprioception (on spacial awareness of the hand)
  • Awakening with fingers and wrists bent and stuck in a certain position

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms will develop gradually and usually do not have a specific onset incident. Many patients experience intermittent symptoms at first, but as it worsens, symptoms can become more frequent or last for longer periods.

Night-time symptoms are most common, but symptoms often occur when holding anything for an extended time with the wrist bent. For example, when reading a book, driving, or using a phone.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

A medley of factors tends to cause most instances. Common risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Health Conditions: This syndrome is commonly linked to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, an underactive thyroid, and high blood pressure.
  • Hand Placement: Long periods spent doing tasks that require considerable hand and wrist extension or flexion can strain the nerves within the wrist. Examples include using a mouse or keyboard.
  • Repetitive Movement: Repeating the same movements or activities can irritate the tendons, triggering swelling and placing pressure on the nerve. Examples include playing the piano or typing.
  • Gender: Women and the elderly are more prone to develop the condition.
  • Genetics: The carpal tunnel may be smaller, or anatomical dissimilarities may alter the space available for the nerve; this can often be traced back to lineage.
  • Pregnancy & Menopause: Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and menopause can cause swelling, often resulting in nerve pressure within the wrist.
  • Prolonged Exposure To Vibrations: This is a common condition associated with manual work and the use of hand tools or high-force hammering.
  • Previous Injury To Wrist: Often, the damage and fluid retention caused by a wrist injury can exacerbate carpal tunnel symptoms.

Measures For Prevention: Avoid Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Because carpal tunnel syndrome can be induced by a wide range of factors and activities, prevention can be tricky. Workstation adjustments, such as correct seating and hand and wrist posture, can help reduce some of the risks. Other means of prevention include:

  • Sleeping with wrists held straight in a splint
  • Keeping wrists straightened when working with tools
  • Repetitive hand motions should be minimized
  • Switch between activities and tasks to reduce strain on wrists
  • Maintain a neutral or straight wrist posture
  • Avoid holding objects in the same position for an extended period
  • Adjust desk, chair, and keyboard so that forearms are level with the work surface
  • Taking regular pauses from repetitive tasks
  • Monitoring and treating symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome

Performing strengthening, flexibility, and conditioning exercises before and after activities and tasks. The following are easy to do from the comfort of your workstation.

  • Touching each finger to the tip of the thumb
  • Making a fist and then extending your fingers as far apart as they can go
  • Making a fist, then gradually opening the hand with fingers held together and then pointing fingers upward, as if signaling a halt or stop
  • Squeezing a tennis ball or stress ball, then gently releasing

How To Diagnose And Test For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As part of the physical examination for carpal tunnel syndrome, a physician will:

  • Examine the neck, arms, wrists, and hands, comparing strength and appearance on both sides.
  • Examine the thumb for strength and mobility when gripping and pinching.
  • Examine other portions of your arm to rule out complications relating to different nerves in the arm or possible nerve compression in the neck.

Other common testing methods include:

  • The Tinel's Sign Test: In this test, the physician thumps the median nerve to examine whether it causes tingling in the fingers.
  • X-rays: If there is restricted wrist mobility or indications of arthritis or trauma, X-rays of the wrist may be prescribed to examine internal structures for a better diagnosis.
  • Electromyography (EMG) And Nerve Conduction Tests: These tests measure how effectively the median nerve functions and governs muscle action.

Can I Test For Carpal Tunnel Myself?

Yes, here is a simple test to perform at home.

The Phalen's Sign Test:

  • Hold your arms out in front of you for approximately 60 seconds
  • Flex your wrists and let your hands hang down

You may be developing carpal tunnel if you experience tingling, numbness, or pain in your fingers within 60 seconds. The faster symptoms appear, the more severe the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment can be performed non-surgically or surgically. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages. Non-surgical therapies are often used for less severe cases and enable patients to continue their everyday activities uninterrupted. In more severe cases, surgical treatments offer rapid and effective outcomes.

Non-Surgical Procedures

Usually, non-surgical therapies are explored first. The treatment process can include:

  • Ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cortisone injections
  • A prescribed wrist splint

Other therapies concentrate on changing your surroundings to reduce symptoms. Often, changes are made to the workstation, which can include:

  • Adjusting the height of your chair
  • Shifting the position or angle of your computer's keyboard
  • Changing your hand/wrist posture while doing tasks
  • Prescribed exercises and heat treatments
  • Wearing braces or splints while working or operating tools

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Surgery

Surgery is often considered when non-surgical therapies fail or the syndrome has progressed to a severe level. Surgery aims to enlarge the tunnel to relieve pressure on the nerves and ligaments that pass through it. This is why it is essential to manage symptoms as soon as they appear.

Carpal tunnel surgery is considered a minor surgery; however, it is a procedure that does require an anesthetic (general or local) and may seem overwhelming for some. Here's what to expect:

Carpal tunnel surgery is performed using various techniques, including endoscopic and open procedures. The endoscopic technique includes smaller incisions and a shorter recovery period than open surgery but comes with its own set of challenges. Your doctor will discuss both options with you.

What To Expect

Carpal tunnel surgery is an outpatient procedure in which the patient remains awake but under local anesthetic. In certain circumstances, your doctor may recommend an IV (intravenous) anesthesia. This option puts the patient in a deep sleep while the operation is performed. This is not the same as a general anesthetic used for major surgeries; it is a routine Monitored Anesthetic Care (MAC) used during colonoscopies.

  • Following the procedure, you will be brought to a recovery room. Your arm will be bandaged. You should attempt to keep your arm elevated at this time to reduce swelling.
  • You can expect some discomfort for 24 - 72 hours after surgery, with nighttime symptomatic relief achieved almost immediately.
  • Your stitches should be removed 10 to 14 days following surgery. Your physician will prescribe conditioning and strengthening exercises to restore fully functional hand usage.
  • Avoid any heavy lifting or impact for approximately 4 - 6 weeks. Recovery timeframes vary based on patient age and general health, as well as the severity of the syndrome and symptoms.

The most significant benefit is that symptomatic relief begins almost immediately. As strength returns to your hands, you'll be capable of returning to all of the tasks and activities that were hindered.

Preventative Treatment And Management Solutions With ApriaHome

Carpal tunnel syndrome, if left untreated, will often lead to weakness, loss of coordination, and chronic nerve damage. It can start affecting your routine and overall quality of life; it is recommended that you begin symptomatic carpal tunnel syndrome treatment as soon as possible.

It is always recommended that you consult a healthcare professional to ensure that carpal tunnel is accurately diagnosed and treated. For fast and effective preventative treatment and management, we recommend one of the following premium-grade hand supports:

DonJoy Captain America Wrist Brace

This premium quality brace is lightweight, breathable, and easy to wear for daily activities, while also providing wrist support, recovery, and injury prevention. The DonJoy Captain America Wrist Brace provides compression and moderate support in the symptomatic treatment of sprains and strains, tendonitis, and wrist discomfort. It’s designed for comfort and durability, ease of use, and adjustability for a customized fit.

IMAK® SmartGlove Wrist Splint Black Large

For efficient and ongoing symptomatic relief from carpal tunnel while at your workstation, we recommend the IMAK® SmartGlove Wrist Splint. This premium quality wristband ensures ergonomically correct wrist position for carpal tunnel release. SmartGlove supports symptomatic relief and helps prevent carpal tunnel while still allowing full hand mobility. The IMAK® SmartGlove Wrist Splint is reversible with a removable splint and features washable cotton lycra. It’s available in 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 inch Hand Width, allowing you to find the best fit.

Your One Stop Medical Assistive And Preventative Equipment Solution

ApriaHome provides an online platform for a wide range of medical assistive and preventative equipment, all from the convenience of one secure online platform. Our goal is to keep Americans educated on various conditions to facilitate an improved quality of life for all. Keep an eye out on our online medical supply platform for amazing discounts and specials, regular updates, and guides.

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LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Material in this newsletter is only: (1) provided for general health education and informational purposes, and to provide references to other resources; it may not apply to you as an individual. While Apria believes that the information provided through this communication is accurate and reliable, Apria cannot and does not make any such guarantee. It is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice, evaluation, diagnosis, services or treatment (collectively, "medical treatment"). Please see your healthcare provider for medical treatment related to you and your specific health condition(s). Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on or accessed through this website. Reading this newsletter should not be construed to mean that you have a healthcare provider/patient relationship with Apria.