Controlling Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Hands using a white keyboard and mouse at a deskCarpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition, affecting about 3 percent of the population. Everyone has heard of it—and people often assume that any pain or numbness in their hands is caused by it—but most people have only a general idea of what carpal tunnels are, much less what causes the syndrome.

What are carpal tunnels?

Turn your wrist palm-side up and imagine a line running right down the middle of your forearm into your wrist. The median nerve lies along this line and, along with the tendons that bend your fingers, runs through the carpal tunnel—a small channel made of ligament and bone at the base of your hand.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The median nerve controls the muscles at the base of the thumb and provides sensation to the thumb and first three fingers on the palm side of your hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is what happens when the carpal tunnel gets too narrow and the median nerve gets squeezed inside, affecting both feeling and movement in that part of the hand. This narrowing can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Swelling/inflammation due to sprain or fracture of the wrist
  • Other inflammation from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fluid retention
  • Cyst or tumor in the carpal tunnel
  • “Mechanical” problems in the wrist
  • Overuse of the wrist joint

What are the symptoms of CPS?

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically come on gradually, and include:

  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the palm and fingers
  • Feeling like the fingers are swollen, though no swelling is present
  • Weaker hand grip
  • Inability to feel the difference between hot and cold with the fingers or hand
  • Feeling the need to “shake out” the hands or wrists

Who gets carpal tunnel syndrome?

It’s a common myth that those who use electronic devices regularly, especially those who work at a computer all day, are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but this simply isn’t true. Assembly line workers are actually three times more likely to have the disorder, and those who use vibrating hand tools are at an even higher risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Middle age
  • Hereditary factors
  • Current or previous wrist injury
  • Certain medical conditions, including:
    • Diabetes
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Gout
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Menopause
    • Pregnancy

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome

Only your health care provider can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and help you decide on the best treatment for you, which could include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Wrist brace or splint
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Taking frequent breaks from repetitive tasks
  • Cool compresses
  • Surgery
  • Alternative therapies like yoga, acupuncture or chiropractic therapy

If you think you experiencing carpal tunnel symptoms, speak with you primary care physician or find a doctor near you