You wouldn’t think that a computer would be the cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome, but typing on a computer all day can be strenuous. If you type all day or fiddle with a mouse, you’re increasing your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. In the United States, there are approximately 50 cases per 1,000 subjects in the general population per year, with this rate increasing to 500 cases per 100 subjects in certain high-risk groups. The peak age of development of carpel tunnel syndrome ranges from 45-60 years, with only 10 percent of CTS patients being younger than 31 years.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Flip over your hand so that you’re facing your palm. Do you see the connecting area between your wrist and your hand? Well, that’s the area of focus when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are ligaments that run from your wrist to your hand that links the bones together in the carpal tunnel. This system of bones and muscles connecting are what allows us to move our fingers and grasps objects. In this intricate system is something called a median nerve which helps us feel temperature, pain, and touch.
When swelling occurs space becomes limited and so the nerve becomes pinched and damage can occur. Carpal tunnel syndrome, then, can be mild or get quite severe depending on the damage. So much so that sometimes surgery is needed to relieve the symptoms and fix the damage.
While the exact process behind why carpal tunnel syndrome occurs is not well understood, we do know it is due to the swelling of tissues around the median nerve that happened due to chronic pressure. The following are events observed in the hands of carpal tunnel syndrome patients:
- The tenosynovium- protective lining of the hand tendons, swell causing a buildup of synovial fluid under the lining.
- The transverse ligament – a band of fibrous tissues that forms the roof of the median nerve, becomes thicker and broader
- These two processes mentioned press on the median nerve fibers, reducing blood flow and oxygen supply to the nerve. As a result, this leads to a slowing of the transmission of nerve signals through the carpal tunnel.
Causes and risk factors of carpal tunnel syndrome
Computer use has been deemed a large risk factor for developing carpal tunnel. This is because when operating a mouse or typing on a keyboard our wrists are bent and pressure is then put on the median nerve.
Additionally, continuous repetitive motion of the wrist can also be a risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome and it continues to put pressure on the nerve.
Some other causes and risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Sex – women are more prone to developing carpal tunnel syndrome
- Other medical conditions – obesity, menopause and kidney failure may increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Illnesses which can lead to nerve damage such as diabetes
- Injury to the wrist like a sprain or a fracture.
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms
As you can imagine with a damaged nerve comes some pain, but there are other carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms you need to be mindful of.
- Numbness in the fingers
- Tingling fingers
- Weakness in the hand
- Burning sensation
- Hands may feel swollen even when swelling isn’t visually seen.
A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience some or all of these symptoms and often times they become worsened at night. This can be in part because while we sleep we bend our hands aggravating the already damaged nerve.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk Factors
The following are some risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome that lead to median nerve compression:
- Being overweight
- Hobbies that require repeated bending at the wrist or grip hand, such as vibrating tools
- Having arthritis or diabetes
- Have a family history of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Have previously injured your wrist
Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment and relief
Our hands are important and so seeking relief and treatment for carpal tunnel is essential. There are a few options when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome treatments depending on the severity of it.
- Wearing a wrist brace while sleeping or performing tasks
- Medications to ease pain and swelling
- Wrist exercises
- Surgery – with surgery the hand is cut so the nerve can be freed from the building pressure.
Of course, the best form of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is prevention.
Tips to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome
Knowing the causes and risk factors is the first step in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome. If you have an occupation which keeps you in front of a computer or completing repetitive wrist motions, be mindful of this. Taking rest breaks and practicing wrist exercises is key—we will discuss further exercises later on.
Boosting circulation is also important. Make sure your hands are kept warm—fingerless gloves may assist in this.
Using ergonomic devices to ease tension on the wrist is also important. For example, keyboards and mouse pads now come with a cushion to elevate your wrist and keep it from bending and such applying pressure to the median nerve.
Lastly, because many other health conditions can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to manage these as well. Take control of your diabetes for starters. Additionally, make sure your thyroid is healthy, you don’t have gout and that your arthritis is manageable. These are other conditions which can increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel exercises
When it comes to carpal tunnel exercises, there are a few techniques that you can utilize.
Carpal tunnel exercise no. 1
Start with your hand in a wrist formation. Move your fingers upward so they become straight. Lower them back down into a wrist formation. Doing this at least 10 times for each hand can help move along circulation and release any tension.
Carpal tunnel exercise no. 2
Once again start with your hand in a fist position. Release the fist and stretch out your fingers like a fan (try to make as much space as possible between each finger). Continue to bring the fingers back in a wrist formation.
Carpal tunnel exercise no. 3
With arms out in front make two fists and bend the wrists downward. Hold in this position for five seconds and bring them back to level.
Carpal tunnel exercise no. 4
Arms out in front relax the fingers and hold for five seconds. Then engage them so they are straight and proceed with relaxing them again.
Carpal tunnel exercise no. 5
Arms out in front flex hand upwards. Fingers will be pointing straight up and wrist is bent. Hold for five seconds, release and repeat.
These are just two exercises in which you can try to help your carpal tunnel. Another effective exercise may utilize the use of a stress ball. Try to squeeze it as much as possible then release.
Building the muscles in your hand can keep it strong. These exercises also stretch out the hand which may become cramped, especially if you partake in repetitive motions.
You don’t need to become a victim of carpal tunnel syndrome. By being mindful of everyday activities and taking to time to exercise your hands you can effectively prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from getting the best of you.