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What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & When to Get Help for Wrist Pain?

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A large portion of Americans spends a significant amount of time during their workday typing on a computer. Those in the telecommunications and technology industries spend over 82 percent of their days typing on a keyboard. Workers in the financial and insurance industries spend nearly 79 percent of their days typing, and even those in the hospitality, food service, and hotel industries spend close to 43 percent typing.

What this data means is that the average American office worker is putting significant strain on their hands, wrists, and fingers, and this data does not even include individuals in manual labor positions who spend their days building, wrenching, lifting, moving, driving, creating, or operating fine instruments. It should be no surprise that carpal tunnel syndrome is one of, if not the, most common nerve disorder, affecting four to ten million Americans. Fortunately, it is treatable, which means for the millions of people living with pain and discomfort, there are hope and help.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder that causes hand weakness, numbness, and tingling. Also known as median nerve compression, the condition occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve that runs the length of the arm and passes into the wrist via the carpal tunnel, ending in the hand. The median nerve controls the movement and sensation in all fingers except the pinky.

What are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome vary. Patients often report side effects beginning gradually before intensifying over time. Symptoms include:

  • Numbness or tingling of the hand and fingers except for the pinky that feels like an electric shock
  • Pain or numbness that travels from the wrist up into the arm, particularly while holding something in the hands
  • Hand weakness, particularly in the muscles that allow the thumb to make a pinching movement that can cause the dropping of held objects

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often linked to another underlying health condition, most specifically:

  • High blood pressure
  • Autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid Dysfunction
  • Fluid retention caused by pregnancy or menopause
  • A past trauma to the wrist, such as a fracture

When one repeatedly overextends their wrist, an underlying case of carpal tunnel syndrome can become exacerbated, as the repetitive movement contributes to swelling of the median nerve. Behaviors that can worsen carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Excessive keyboard use
  • Prolonged exposure to power tools or hand tools that vibrate
  • Playing the piano or other hobbies that require repeated hand and wrist movements

Who Is At Risk of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome primarily impacts adults. Individuals with chronic health conditions that are known to be associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, such as diabetes, are most at risk. Women are also three times more likely than men to develop the condition during their lifetimes. Individuals whose jobs or hobbies might require repetitive wrist movements are more at risk. Such work includes assembly line operations, including manufacturing, sewing, cleaning, and meatpacking, as well as excessive computer keyboard use.

What Treatment is Available for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Both surgical and non-surgical therapy options are available to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, depending on the severity of symptoms. Those who seek a diagnosis and treatment from a doctor early have the best odds of recovering fully. For early carpal tunnel syndrome cases, your doctor may encourage you to rest your hands frequently when performing repetitive tasks, wearing a wrist splint, and applying cold packs to help reduce swelling.

Your doctor might also recommend the use of an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, to help relieve discomfort and pain. Other treatments include the injection of corticosteroids to decrease swelling and inflammation. In the most severe cases, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure known as a carpal tunnel release procedure, which aims to relieve pressure by cutting the ligament pressing on the median nerve.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, tingling, or numbness in your wrist, hand, or arm, and you believe carpal tunnel syndrome may be the cause, talk to your doctor. He or she can provide a diagnosis and provide a recommendation on an appropriate treatment plan.