What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is due to compression of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. This can be due to pressure over the median nerve or repetitive wrist flexion, for example during typing. Prolonged use of vibrating equipment e.g. drills may also contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Wheelchair athletes, rock climbers and cyclists are at increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to the demands of their sport. In addition, conditions such as pregnancy and diabetes mellitus are also associated with an increased risk of developing the condition. Women are more commonly affected than men.
In carpal tunnel syndrome, you may have numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands including the thumb and the first few fingers. Symptoms may be worse at night and wake you from sleep.
When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention
If you experience sudden onset of weakness, loss of hand grip or hand coordination, or hand numbness along with severe neck pain or shooting arm pain, this may suggest a neurologic problem other than carpal tunnel syndrome and should be evaluated.
What can you do?
Wearing a specialized wrist splint for carpal tunnel syndrome may help. Pain medications can also help. It is important to improve the ergonomics of your workspace, for example by using gel wrist pads to keep your wrists in neutral alignment when typing on a keyboard, or to switch from using a laptop to a desktop computer with the appropriate monitor and keyboard height.
What can we do to help you?
Hand occupational therapy can teach you exercises to decrease pain and improve your function. Doctors can give you a corticosteroid injection to the wrist which may help with relieving the symptoms temporarily. Sometimes electromyography and a nerve conduction test are performed to determine the extent of nerve injury. If the symptoms are persisting despite conservative treatments or there is muscle wasting in the hands or severe findings on the nerve test, you may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for release of the carpal tunnel.