How Do I Know If I Have Carpal Tunnel?
Hi everyone, I hope the week has been kind to you all so far and that you are embracing and taking on the challenges head on! For today’s topic, I want to talk about something that many people, especially those working long office hours, may develop – carpal tunnel. Also known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), it can cause numbness, tingling, or even pain when the median nerve is trapped.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
When your wrist pressures the median nerve, it causes numbness, pain or tingling as mentioned above. It may even result in weakness and other issues with your hand! This occurs because multiple tendons and the median nerve stretch from your forearm to your hand through a small area in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel.
The diagram shows how the median nerve travels through the carpal tunnel (pic from wikipedia.org)
The median nerve controls your thumb and three fingers (excluding the little one), and the pressure on the nerve can be caused by several factors that result in swelling or making the carpal tunnel smaller. The pain may even be extend to the forearm in severe cases, but for the most part it is usually confined to the thumb and the first three fingers. If your little finger is fine but there are problems with the others, it may be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome because the little finger is attached to a different nerve.
What Causes It?
Anything that causes swelling or the carpal tunnel to reduce in size can be a factor. This includes diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis, or natural occurrences such as pregnancy. However, the most common cause are hand movements that are repetitive in nature, especially when the wrist is bent. This may extend to writing or typing for those studying or working in the office, to more strenuous causes such as heavy labour; for example using a sledgehammer.
Those working long hours in front of a computer should be careful to take care of the wrists (pic from drcherok.com)
To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, try to maintain a neutral position for your wrist when doing any activities. For example, when typing you should try to keep your wrists straight and your hands higher than your wrists.
When picking up objects, use your entire hand instead of just your fingers, and switch hands as much as possible to prevent repetitive motions that can lead to swelling.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated at home before it gets worse (pic from wikihow.com)
How To Treat It
Symptoms may first be noticed during the night, but often times this can be relieved simply by giving your hand a good shake. You do not need to visit a doctor if the symptoms are mild and not debilitating. Other things you can do include:
- Applying ice or a cold pack to your wrist for 10-15 minutes once or twice an hour
- Stopping any activity that may be straining your wrist further
- Wearing a wrist splint at night to alleviate any pressure on your median nerve
Doing any of these is crucial to preventing symptoms from becoming worse and potentially leading to surgery, which is needed when the pain is too severe or if you cannot do any work as a result.