Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition wherein an individual experiences pain, tingling sensations, and numbness in the hand, wrist, and arm. The condition affects the nerves in your wrist, known as the median nerve, leading to the development of symptoms that can range from a mild discomfort to an incapacitating disorder that disrupts your daily life.
According to the data gathered during the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, 5 million people in the United States who are under the working population were affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. Interestingly, they found out that around 33% of the cases were people who work in the healthcare field.
Understanding the Structure of Your Wrist
The signs and symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome mainly stem from your wrist. To understand the condition and its danger, you have to be familiar some basic wrist anatomy.
When you say carpal tunnel minus the syndrome, you are referring to a passageway that runs from your wrist to your hand. It is composed of bones, tendons, and ligaments. Your median nerve passes under these ligaments and through your carpal tunnel. It is the one that’s responsible for detecting sensations in your palm. It also sends and receives signals to and from the muscles of your thumb.
The ligaments over your median nerve are called transverse ligaments. These ligaments are not flexible and they cannot adjust to accommodate any increase in pressure or volume in your wrist.
What Happens in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
In carpal tunnel syndrome, the space inside the tunnel narrows due to swelling of the surrounding tissues such as the tendons and ligaments. This can compress the median nerve, reduce its blood and oxygen supply, and disrupt the transfer of nerve signals. Since the median nerve supplies all the fingers in your hand except for your little finger, only the little finger doesn’t experience pain, tingling, and numbness.
Are You At Risk?
It has been shown that the following factors can predispose you to have carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Older people. Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in older people. Cases in children are very rare, but not unheard of.
- Being a woman. Studies show that women are more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome compared to men. Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can result in fluid accumulation and retention in the wrist. Likewise, menopause is being attributed to enlargement of wrist structures and CTS development secondary to hormonal changes.
- A family history of CTS. Certain genes associated with determining your biophysical characteristics and some medical conditions run in the family. Some people also have smaller carpal tunnels than others.
- Repetitive, strenuous work involving the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also industry-related. People whose jobs involve the repetitive movement of the hands and wrist are susceptible to develop the condition. Among them are encoders, computer users, musicians, and construction workers.
- Being overweight. Being obese or overweight has been shown to decrease the speed of nerve impulse transmission to your hand. Excess fat deposits can also lead to compression of the median nerve.
- Injury to the wrist. Injuries to the wrist such as a fracture, dislocation, or sprain can directly put pressure on the median nerve. Also, these injuries are almost always accompanied by swelling, which can further compress the nerve.
Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome tend to develop gradually and worsen with any kind of repetitive movement of the wrist and hand. The following can be observed:
- Pain, numbness, burning, or tingling sensation in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
- A prickly feeling (medically referred to as paresthesia) similar to pins and needles in your hand
- Lesser sensitivity to touch
- Weakness of the hand
- Shock-like feeling that travels to your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
- Weakening and shrinking of the muscle at the base of your thumb
- Drying, swelling, and other changes in the skin of the hand
Home Remedies and Tips to Manage CTS
Remember that you need to reduce the pressure on your median nerve to alleviate your symptoms.
- Applying a cold pack to the affected area can numb the pain and reduce the swelling in your wrist
- Avoid repetitive movements with your hand
- Wear a carpal tunnel brace for wrist support, comfort, and stabilization. Wearing a brace or a splint most especially at night can prevent your wrist from bending while you sleep. If your daily activities require the frequent use of your hands, it is recommended to use the brace during the day as well.
Although carpal tunnel syndrome is non-fatal, it can result in irreversible damage to the median nerve. Consequently, if no treatment measure is applied, you can lose the function of your hand. If these tips fail to reduce your discomfort, consult your doctor to discuss further treatment options.