An Easy To Understand Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Explanation
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a rather common condition that some people mistakenly believe is relatively new, the result of the modern technological age in which we live. In reality,however, from studies of medical records throughout history we know that CTS has actually been in existence for many years and can be caused by a variety of different reasons.
What Exactly is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition named for the narrow passageway known as the carpal tunnel, which is approximately the size of the thumb and is located on the palm side of the hand. This “tunnel” is surrounded by ligaments and bones and is in place to offer protection for the median nerve running through the arm and into the wrist, hand, and fingers. This important and much-needed nerve sends the signal to bend and move the fingers. When certain movements are repeated frequently or excessive pressure is put on this particular area, a host of symptoms may appear, often making the simplest of tasks difficult and even painful for many.
Who is Most at Risk for CTS?
Considered to be an RSI, or repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome is usually associated with certain occupations that require the same repeated movements, such as those made by writers and typists, musicians, carpenters, factory workers, and others who may work with their hands on a regular basis. There have been several studies that have suggested that women are significantly more at risk for getting carpal tunnel syndrome with as many as seventy percent of reported cases of the condition being women. However, the reasons for this are still largely unknown and some theories suggest that the condition may be attributed to activities like housework and typing, but there may be other factors at work to explain why women are affected more, such as hormonal changes and the use of oral contraceptives. There are also other circumstances that may cause carpal tunnel syndrome, such as obesity, pregnancy, chronic inactivity, and endocrine or immune disorders including diabetes and arthritis. Any of these factors coupled with the overuse of the hands and wrists through repetitive movements and strain may greatly increase the chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Some other risk factors that may contribute toward the development of carpal tunnel syndrome include smoking cigarettes, previous injuries to the area, poor nutrition, and even extreme stress.
The Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is given if any one or more of the following symptoms are present for at least a week, or if they appear on an intermittent basis for one month or longer:
-pain characterized by symptoms such as aching, numbness, tingling, burning or stiffness in the wrist or hand areas, especially in the thumb and first two fingers
-pain in the hands or forearm area that worsens after use, or at night time;
-weakness in the fingers and hands;
-loss of control of the fingers.
Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that is treatable and one that can be managed through the use of exercise, taking anti-inflammatory medication, using ice packs, or wearing wrist and thumb splints when needed.
Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you have mild to moderate carpal tunnel, exercises can be a great alternative to surgery and pain medications. Over time, you may even eliminate your symptoms with exercises and by implementing practices during your day to help alleviate stress on the median nerve. As you probably already know, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure is placed on the median nerve. The carpal tunnel provides a narrow passageway for the median nerve. When this passageway narrows, or places pressure on the nerve inside, pain, numbness, and, in more advanced stages, hand weakness occurs. Restoring the balance, the ability to stretch, and the strength of the muscles and tendons around the carpal tunnel can help to relieve the pressure and thus restore normal function to the carpal tunnel and the median nerve. Try the following exercises to help prevent and relieve your carpal tunnel symptoms.
Increase Glide of Tendons
With your elbow at ninety degrees, point fingers and thumb towards ceiling, wrist straight, at the second finger joint bend your fingers down. Hold for 5 seconds, release and point fingers towards the ceiling. Repeat exercise 5 times. With the same 90-degree elbow position with fingers and thumb towards ceiling, make a fist by bending your fingers at the second joint and your knuckles. Hold for five seconds. Repeat exercise 5 times. Make a fist with both hands. With a tight fist, bend wrist down. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax and then repeat 5 times. Remember as you perform these exercises to prevent further damage, stop if extreme pain occurs. Soreness after the exercises is not uncommon.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Undoubtedly, living with carpal tunnel can be painful, stressful, and debilitating. But before you elect to have carpal tunnel surgery, it is important to understand that surgery is not always the cure-all for this condition. Make sure you evaluate and investigate all your options before making a final decision to have surgery because, in many cases, other treatments can be more effective, less traumatic, and you can avoid surgery risks. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, “nonsurgical treatment may be more effective if you have only mild nerve impairment.”
On the other hand, if the symptoms of carpal tunnel are present for more than several months, surgery may be your best option.
Surgery- The Procedure
Specific methods of surgery may vary, but in all cases, the surgeon cuts the ligament that is causing the pressure on your median nerve. Endoscopic surgery is often the method of choice. Alternatively, an incision is made is the palm of your hand directly over the carpal tunnel to release the median nerve. In both cases, recovery time can vary from several weeks to a few months. You can expect soreness and weakness during this time. In approximately 70 % of surgical cases, great improvement occurs. Several factors can affect the level of recovery, including level of health before surgery, and the kinds of repetitive activities you may be involved in after the surgery. Remember, be sure to investigate your options, ask your doctor questions, and be open to nonsurgical treatments before you make the decision to have surgery.