What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common nerve compressions, which occurs in the upper extremities of the body. The condition results in the most number of days being lost among all work-related injuries. The United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports repetitive strain injuries are the most costly and common occupational health problems in the nation each year. Each year, carpal tunnel syndrome costs companies in the United States more than $20 billion in workers compensation claims.
Each year, approximately 275,000 carpal tunnel operations are performed, 45% of these operations are thought to be work-related. According to a 1999 research study, approximately 15% of the American population reported experiencing symptoms related to carpal tunnel injury. However, it is important to note that while CTS is so common, there are things a person can do to prevent or alleviate the condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is also known as CTS or median neuropathy of the wrist. It is a medical condition which results in compression of the median nerve of the wrist, resulting in paresthesias (tingling), muscle weakness and numbness in the hand. Most types of CTS are idiopathic, meaning of unknown origin. Certain genetic factors can put a person at a certain increased risk and the use of the arm and other factors are also being debated.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome experience a gradual increase of symptoms over time. The first symptoms often occur when the person is sleeping and typically include a tingling and burning sensation and numbness in the fingers and palms. The symptoms most often present at night because a person tends to bend the wrist when sleeping, which can lead to further compression of the carpal tunnel and median nerves.
Some people have reported “dropping things,” though it is not known why carpal tunnel would affect the way a person holds objects. In early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome can often be mistaken for poor blood circulation because of the “pins and needles” sensation. With a chronic case of carpal tunnel syndrome, there can be an actual wasting away of the muscles which connect to the thumb and it may be hard to bring the thumb away from the hand.
People who have carpal tunnel syndrome oftentimes have a hard time getting a definitive diagnosis. An EMG nerve conduction study is one of the best and most accurate ways to determine if a person has carpal tunnel syndrome or some other condition.
Rehabilitation Tips and Exercises for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Recent medical research studies indicate a person who performs rehabilitation exercises can reduce the need for surgery by more than 40%. The exercises are most successful in people who exhibit only mild to moderate carpal tunnel symptoms, for people who have persistent symptoms despite performing the exercise, it may be necessary to consult with a physician for other options.
Here are some carpal tunnel rehabilitation exercises:
Here are some additional exercises intended to help aid in rehabilitation of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Extend and stretch both wrists and fingers outward, as if in a hand stand position. Hold the position for 5 counts.
- Straighten both wrists forward and relax the fingers and hold for 5 counts.
- Make a frozen fist and rotate counter clockwise, hold for 5 counts.
- While still in frozen fist position, gently bend each wrist down 5 times on each side.
- Straighten out wrists and relax fingers, shake wrists gently do 5 times on each wrist.
- Gliding exercises: reduce pressure on the carpal tunnel and median nerve. Beneficial to people with moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fist flexion exercises: also known as tendon gliding exercises are designed to move the five positions and back into a neutral position.
- Being with fingers straight
- Make a hooked fist and then return to a straight hand position
- Make a straight fist and then return to straight hand position
- Make a fist and then return back to the straight hand position
Median nerve-gliding exercises: involves moving the thumb move through six different positions while the wrist remains neutral.
- Make a fist and keep wrist neutral
- Straighten fingers and thumb
- Bend the wrist backward and move the thumb away from the palm
- Turn wrist into palm up position
- Use other hand to gently guide thumb away from the palm
Carpal tunnel exercises are designed to stretch out the muscles of the forearm and decrease tension on tendons that pass over the carpal tunnel. Exercising is most useful when combined with other forms of carpal tunnel syndrome treatment as determined by a medical professional.
Tips for Carpal Tunnel Prevention
Injuring the wrist increases a person’s risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Preventing workplace injuries will decrease the chances and risks of carpal tunnel. To reduce workplace risks, ensure that work space and equipment are in the right height position and distance for hand and wrist comfort. When working on a computer, a keyboard should be at a height that allows the wrist to rest in a comfortable position without having to bend at an uncomfortable angle.
Desk work space should be approximately 27-29 inches above the floor for most people, it helps reduce elbow and forearm strain. Maintaining proper posture and wrist position can significantly reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Try to avoid moving or stretching in an uncomfortable angle, and avoid repetitive movements as well. Perform tasks that require using different muscle groups hourly and break up tasks that require repetitive wrist and hand motion. Using ergonomic solutions, rotate job tasks, keep the muscles warm, take frequent breaks and seeking early medical attention can also go a long way in alleviating or preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Medical researchers are still trying to discover better ways to prevent CTS. However, by following the advice and tips mentioned above, a person can prevent or drastically reduce the chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.