Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve that runs from the forearm to your hand becomes compressed at the narrow passageway (carpal tunnel) in the wrist, leading to tingling, numbness and discomfort in the hand and fingers.
It’s important to know the symptoms and potential causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, so you know what to look out for and when to seek advice.
What are the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Most people with CTS experience a gradual onset of symptoms that may come and go and worsen at night.
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand, fingers, or thumb, making it more difficult to grip or hold things, such as a phone or pen.
You may experience pain or discomfort in your hand, fingers, or thumbs. The squeezing of the median nerve can even lead to pain radiating up the arm into the elbow, shoulder, and neck.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
With carpal tunnel syndrome, there are multiple causes and often a combination of factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition.
Any strenuous, repetitive movement involving the hand, wrist or fingers may increase your risk of developing CTS.
Actions such as repeatedly scrolling on your phone, writing, typing, gripping tools, or holding a video console could potentially lead to an increased risk of CTS over time.
Certain jobs may require you to move your hand in a repetitive motion which may increase your susceptibility to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
For example, those working in offices may repeatedly use their mouse and keyboard, which if positioned incorrectly, may lead to gradual compression of the median nerve, resulting in CTS.
Or, those working in construction and manufacturing may also be more prone to developing CTS because of repeated forceful hand movements and the use of hand-held vibratory tools.
Inflammation caused by medical conditions, such as arthritis or type II diabetes, may affect the tendons around the wrist, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Hormonal changes within the body, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause, may lead to increased fluid retention. If fluid builds up in the wrist, this can lead to swelling, which may compress the median nerve, resulting in CTS.
If you’ve previously injured your wrist, either through a sprain, fracture, or dislocation, this may increase your susceptibility to developing CTS.
Some people may be predisposed to developing CTS if they have a parent or sibling with the condition.
Ways to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome
Unfortunately, there are no proven strategies to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but If you have one or more risk factors, it’s useful to understand the measures you can take to minimize stress on your hands and wrist, and reduce your chances of acquiring the condition.
- Reduce your force, relax your grip
Often people use more force than is needed to perform small tasks. For example, if your work involves typing then hit the keys softly. If you write a lot, then choose a big pen with a soft grip adapter and free flowing ink and apply only light pressure to the paper.
- Take frequent breaks and perform simple exercises
If you are working on repetitive wrist motions you should periodically, for example every hour, take a break. It’s also worth alternating repetitive tasks if possible and rotating them with colleagues if possible. If you use vibrating equipment or perform tasks that require a lot of force, it’s particularly important to rest and alternate to prevent CTS.
Performing simple hand, wrist and finger exercises for four to five minutes every hour may be helpful in preventing CTS. This will help relax and also strengthen the muscles in your wrists and hands and improve blood flow to these areas.
You can try gently stretching and shaking exercises for your hand, wrist and fingers including: wrist bends (forward and back), wrist lifts, wrist flexes, finger bends, wrist stretches with weights, and hand squeezes.
- Watch your form and posture
Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. Keeping your wrist in a relaxed middle position is best.
You should also take care when positioning your keyboard and keep it at elbow height or slightly lower.
Posture is a very important and if incorrect it can cause your shoulders to slump which aggravates your neck and shoulder muscles, and may causes problems in your arms, hands and wrists. Proper posture and exercise programs designed to strengthen fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck may help prevent CTS.
- Keep your hands warm
A cold environment is always associated with stiff joints. Your hands are more likely to develop pain and stiffness in cold temperatures. Try fingerless gloves if you can’t control the temperature as these will keep your hands and wrists warm but allow you to work effectively and flexibly.
- Change your equipment
Workstations, tools and tasks can be redesigned to allow you to maintain a natural wrist position whilst working.
An ergonomic keyboard is ideal for maintaining a more natural position for your hands. A new computer mouse that is well positioned and not causing strain on your wrist may be beneficial too. You may also try moving your mouse to the other side and using your less dominant hand. Eventually you’ll get used to using your other hand and it’s an excellent preventative measure.
Carpal tunnel treatment with Ramsay Health Care
If you are experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, Ramsay Health Care can help.
We offer rapid access to appointments so that you can receive a prompt diagnosis and expert advice from our team of skilled specialists and medical professionals on the most appropriate course of treatment for you.
Should you require surgery, you’ll be looked after by our team of experienced orthopaedic surgeons.