What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve which runs down the arm, through a passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel and ends in the hand. Symptoms include numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand, specifically the thumb and all fingers except for the pinky. The pressure on the nerve is usually caused by swelling around the carpal tunnel due to overuse. Carpal tunnel is a very common condition associated with pain and numbness in the arm and hand. This condition comes about because of squeezing or compression of the median nerve, as it travels through the wrist. Although this condition is usually not very serious, it can get worse over time in some patients. This calls for early diagnosis and treatment of the condition before things get very serious. For instance, excess pressure on the nerves can lead to nerve damage and worse symptoms. At this time, surgery might be the only way to remedy the problem. This article looks at carpal tunnel, its causes, treatment, and prevention.
Overuse of the Arms and Hands
Sometimes, one can have symptoms that seem to indicate carpal tunnel syndrome, but can just be tightness of the hands and forearms. These days with extended computer and smartphone use, our hands and forearms get a lot of use. When the muscles get tight, or if they swell from overuse, there can be similar symptoms to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel comes about because of a combination of several factors that minimize the available space for the media nerve in the hand and arm within the carpal tunnel. Some things that can cause carpal tunnel include injury to the wrist, an overactive pituitary gland, a sprain or fracture of the arm, rheumatoid arthritis, and an underactive thyroid gland. Some other contributing factors to carpal tunnel include mechanical problems in the wrist joint, fluid retention during pregnancy, work stress, development of a cyst in the canal, or repeated use of vibrating hand tools.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
Symptoms of carpal tunnel commence gradually with frequent tingling, burning, or numbness in the palm and fingers. Some carpal tunnel patients say that their fingers feel swollen and almost useless, even when no swelling is apparent. Carpal tunnel symptoms commence in one hand and later develop to the other hand. The symptoms are mostly apparent during the night, and an individual with carpal tunnel might feel the urge to wake and shake out the wrist or hand.
As symptoms begin to worsen, the tingling and numbness might be witnessed during the day. The condition may also cause minimized grip strength, making it hard for an individual to grasp and use objects, or even perform manual activities. It is in such a situation that carpal tunnel requires immediate medical attention.
Massage Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Whether symptoms are caused by true carpal tunnel swelling or simply muscle tightness, massage therapy can be beneficial. Massage will help with the swelling which can alleviate the symptoms. It will also help with muscle tightness that may be pressing on the median nerve, so massage will relax the muscles of the hand and forearm. There are also Active Isolated Stretching techniques that can be done to help with the swelling and tightness as well. If the wrist, hand and elbow joints are moving better then there is less of a chance of injury to the area as well.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel
The best treatment option for carpal tunnel often depends on the severity of the condition. If your condition is not very serious, you can implement nonsurgical treatment options such as wrist splints, which are meant to hold the affected hand in a neutral position, mild medication to reduce inflammation, and steroid injections to also minimize the inflammation. During treatment, you should avoid staying in positions that cause your wrist to overextend, and treat any condition like arthritis that could be causing carpal tunnel.
In case of severe damage, surgery might be the only best option to handle your carpal tunnel condition. Surgery to treat this condition entails cutting the band of tissue in the wrist, which crosses the median nerve. This is done to lessen the pressure on the nerve. The factors that will determine the success or failure of the procedure are duration of symptoms, too much weakness, age of the patient, and if the patient has diabetes mellitus. However, these should not worry you, as the outcome is usually positive.
After the surgery, many patients will enjoy a great improvement in their carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. The recovery process depends on the specific patient, and some people might take up to one year to recover fully. As part of your recovery process, your doctor may recommend hand therapy to maximize your chances of recovery.
Preventing Carpal Tunnel
It is said that prevention is better than cure. You can prevent carpal tunnel by making the needed lifestyle changes, geared towards reducing your risk factors for developing the condition. As aforementioned, carpal tunnel can be caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes. It therefore makes sense to first combat these health issues, as a way to minimize your risk for carpal tunnel. Another thing you have to do is pay attention to hand posture and avoid those activities that cause you to overextend or overuse your wrist. Engaging in physical therapy exercises may also help prevent carpal tunnel.
Other Preventative Measures and Treatment
Besides utilizing massage therapy to keep the muscles of the forearm and hand from getting injured, there are other things you can do.
- Get an ergonomic set up at your computer. While this won’t prevent overuse, if on a computer all day, it can definitely make it a bit more comfortable and reduce risk of injury if combined with self care techniques.
- Use 2 hands to hold your phone and when you are typing. Smartphones are heavier and bigger these days and can put strain on the muscles, so using 2 hands will give you more support in the area.
- Wear a splint at night if you are experiencing any numbness or tingling at night. This helps to keep the wrist in a neutral position and can alleviate any compression due to sleep positions.
- Alternating heat and ice for increased circulation. This technique called contrast bathing has one use heat for 10 minutes, then ice for 10 minutes, then back to heat, etc, etc. This method can increase circulation and help with any present swelling.
Carpal tunnel entails pain and numbness in the arm or hand and mostly comes about because of too much compression of the median nerve that passes through the wrist. It can also be caused by overuse or injury of the arm. The common symptoms that accompany carpal tunnel are pain, numbness, and tingling on the wrist. Carpal tunnel is usually not very serious and can thus be treated by non-surgical methods such as physical therapy, wrist splints, and taking medication. It is on severe occasions that carpal tunnel requires surgery. It best to prevent carpal tunnel by focusing on its causes and keeping them at bay.