What Exactly Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
We hear about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome everyday. The moment your hand falls asleep and you get the pins and needles in your fingers, somebody is bound to suggest that it is CTS. However, this is because most people do not have a clear understanding of what Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is. Understanding the physiognomy is important if you want to understand CTS.
The wrist is the slimmest part of the human body. Slim wrists have been considered a sign of beauty for centuries, but people with smaller wrists, it is now known, are at higher risk for CTS.
The carpals are the bones you feel when you touch your wrist. In the wrist is the carpal tunnel, which is enclosed by the carpals on three sides, and on the fourth side, by a transverse carpal ligament. Within this narrow space, is not only the median nerve, but also nine flexor tendons. These tendons help you bend your wrist. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty tight squeeze. If for some reason the carpal tunnel is too small, or if the tendons within the tunnel become larger, your median nerve will be compressed.
It is through the median nerve that you get sensation in your thumb, forefinger, middle finger, and part of your ring finger. When the median nerve is compressed, sensation to these fingers will begin to reduce. You will begin to feel a sort of numbness, or a tingling – rather like your hand is falling asleep.
When you bend your wrist, to form a right angle, the carpal tunnel becomes much narrower. And when you stop to think about it, you will see that most activities, from playing the guitar to typing to having your lunch to pushing a swing, require your wrist to bend. Keeping it bent for prolonged periods of time – like when you type for a long time – compresses the median nerve, and causes the symptoms of CTS. If you do this repeatedly, you could be left with a clear cut case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Another possibility is that repeated stress on your wrist can injure the tendons in the carpal tunnel. This makes the already narrow space even narrower, and can cause the median nerve to be compressed. This is why anti-inflammatory medicines give relief – once the tendons are back to normal, the carpal tunnel is back to normal, too.
In some cases, there might be a tumour in the wrist. This could also cause compression to the median nerve.
Some other reasons that might result in the inflammation of your tendons are hypothyroidism, pregnancy and diabetes. In such cases, the underlying causes need attention, though anti-inflammatory medicines could still help.
Knowing the facts about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is important, because a lot of other things, like tendonitis or even bursitis, are ignored after wearing a wrist splint because everybody seems to assume that ay pain in the arm anywhere is CTS. While wearing a wrist splint might not do much harm, it won’t cure anything, either.
Strain Injuries: CTDs
If you lift heavy boxes all day long every day, you know what will happen – your back will be too stiff for you to stand up straight. And that is if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you will be stuck with a bad back until you get proper treatment, and even then, it might not get better. If that can happen to your back because of strain, consider what can happen to a part of your body that is so much more delicate, like your wrist.
No part of your body can take repeated strain and still function properly. Repetitive Strain Injuries or Cumulative Trauma Disorders, or CTDs, are serious problems facing the work force today.
Cumulative Trauma Disorders affect people from all walks of life, but the people who are the most susceptible to these disorders are those who work in assembly lines, those who work on computers, musicians and people who do hard labour. There are many Cumulative Trauma Disorders that affect these people – Focal Dystonia, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, Radial Tunnel Syndrome and Intersection Syndrome, to name but a few. The most common Cumulative Trauma Syndrome that affects people today, though, is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Whichever CTD you have, there will be warning signs that can help save you a lot of pain and discomfort if you can learn to distinguish them.
Tingling or numbness
Pain, especially during the night, maybe bad enough to wake you up in your hand, wrist shoulder, arm or neck.
General weakness, difficulty in gripping things
If you feel that you have any of these symptoms, there is a chance that you might have a CTD, but it will still be its early stages, when it can easily be tackled.
Once you know that you have a CTD, you have to give your arm, in the case of CTS, as much rest as possible. If you can’t give it complete rest, wear a brace and take frequent breaks.
It’s also a known fact that psychological factors contribute towards CTDs. If you are a lot of stress, or if you are not entirely satisfied with your job, for example, your CTD could be aggravated. In fact, there are a few schools of thought that consider stress to be the main cause of CTDs. Excess psychological strain can, at the very least, make you more susceptible to these strain injuries – heavy boxes are not the only kind of load you might be carrying that might be affecting your health and your performance.
A workplace and surroundings designed with the principles of ergonomics in mind – making sure that the environment and the job fit the person who is doing the job, thus ensuring that the person does the job with the maximum effect and with the least harm – is one of the best ways to counter strain injuries of many kind, as well as to prevent strain injuries in the first place.
Preventive Measures for Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
Before we can look at preventive measures for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, we need a basic understanding of what Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or CTS is. The Carpel Tunnel is the passage in the wrist created by bones on three sides and ligament on the fourth. Through this tiny space, nine tendons pass, as well as the median nerve. It stands to reason that any inflammation of any sort in the carpal tunnel will cause the median nerve to be compressed. The median nerve goes on to the thumb, forefinger middle finger and ring finger. This is the reason for the burning, tingling feelings and for the numbness and the pain.
So the first thing to do to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is to avoid causing any kind of strain to your wrist. This is easier said than done, though. Most jobs now require people to sit in front of a computer for hours on end. Manual labour, too, has become easier with power tools. These power tools vibrate, though, and this vibration is very hard on the wrist. If you have no choice but to strain your wrist in your line of work, there are certain things you can do to minimize your risk.
The best thing you can do is make sure you take adequate breaks. A break every twenty minutes or so can do wonders. This is especially important if you have any tingling or pins and needles sensation in your palm, because these are the first signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Fix your posture. This has been talked about so many times that it has become quite stale. A good posture seems to be the one-shot remedy for so many things that it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if somebody said that it could fix a broken neck, too. But the fact remains that good posture is essential in preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Ensuring that your wrist does not bend too much for too long, keeping your forearms parallel to the floor while typing and therefore not applying too much pressure all help prevent the onset and/or aggravation of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Keep your wrist warm. You can’t always control the temperature you work in, but you can make sure that you keep your wrist warm with a fingerless glove. This can also act as a support for your wrist, making sure that you don’t bend it too much.
If you have trouble with hypothyroidism, diabetes or have had some sort of injury in your wrist that might have causes inflammation in the area or tendonitis, you will be more susceptible to CTS. Treating these causes before the onset of CTS is important.
Don’t stay in one position for too long, whether you are standing or sitting. Walk around, do a few stretches, roll your shoulder, loosen up – do whatever works for you.
Even if you feel that you might have CTS, your best chance to get rid of it for good is if it is diagnosed early enough to give you as many options as possible.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: a question of hand and wrist configurations?
This study investigated whether there is an association between hand and wrist configurations and the occurrence of previous carpal tunnel syndrome. The external hand and wrist dimensions of 50 subjects with previous carpal tunnel term syndrome and 50 healthy volunteers were measured and compared. In addition previous carpal tunnel depth and width were determined with ultrasound. Our results showed that the hand length was significantly higher in the control group (hand length, 19.0; SD, 1.0 cm: patients’ hand length, 18.2; SD, 1.1 cm) and the palm width was significantly greater in the patients’ group (palm width, 9.1; SD, 0.7 cm: controls palm width, 8.6; SD, 0.6 cm). previous Carpal tunnel syndrome patients had a squarer wrist (wrist ratio, 0.72; SD, 0.1) and previous carpal tunnel (carpal tunnel ratio, 0.48; SD, 0.1) than the controls (wrist ratio, 0.68; SD, 0.1; carpal tunnel ratio, 0.42; SD, 0.1). These findings indicate that the anatomy of the hand, wrist and previous carpal tunnel may predispose to carpal tunnel syndrome.