The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway made up by the bones of the wrist through which nerves and tendons run to and from the hand. These structures are responsible for movement of the hand and fingers (the tendons that connect the muscles of the forearm to the bones in the hand) and carries sensation from the hand back to the central nervous system. In carpal tunnel syndrome, there is increased pressure on the median nerve – this nerve has both sensory (sensation) and motor (motion) functions.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One of the most common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome these days is from working long hours on a computer keyboard or using a mouse. Any other repetitive activities that utilises the hands and fingers may also cause carpal tunnel syndrome, like writing, drawing and certain sports.
Some conditions can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome like diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis or menopause. Swelling of the hand for long periods of time as in cases of fluid retention due to pregnancy may also contribute to the development of this condition. Injury to the hand or wrist, prolonged use of the hand for carrying heavy objects or even a naturally narrow carpal tunnel are other possible causes.
Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and it tends to be more prevalent in obese persons as well as people who have a family history of this condition. These risk factors are not the sole reason for the development of carpal tunnel syndrome and the disease itself is usually caused by overuse of the hand.
Signs and Symptoms
Since the median nerve conducts sensory impulses from receptors on your thumb, index finger, middle finger and the side of your ring finger, most of the symptoms you will experience as a result of carpal tunnel syndrome usually affects these areas.
Some of the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome includes :
- Numbness, tingling or “pins and needles” of the fingers supplied by the median nerve.
- Pain of the wrist that runs down to your fingers and/or up to your hand – this pain may be a dull ache or can be a sharp nagging pain.
- Feeling of weakness in the hand and you may experience difficulty in perform certain tasks which appears like muscle weakness.
The symptoms tend to aggravate at night and at times there may be evident swelling around the wrist.
Treatment and Prevention
In mild cases, resting your hand regularly will allow the condition to ease without any need for treatment. In more severe cases, you doctor may have to immobilise the wrist and prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and/or corticosteroids.
If your case of carpal tunnel syndrome persists, you doctor may advise surgical intervention. In these instances, the ligament pressing against the nerve may be cut or ‘loosened’ to reduce the pressure. In the event of certain other conditions causing carpal tunnel syndrome, appropriate treatment will be directed at treating and managing these disorders. Your symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome should then reduce or resolve completely.
Some of the measures to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent a recurrence include :
- Frequent breaks between activities involving the hands.
- Relaxing the force of the hand or grip while working.
- Learning different ways to move your hand that will not aggravate the condition.
- Keeping the hands warm in a cold environment as this may aggravate the symptoms.