Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is associated with people who:
- perform repetitive tasks with their hands, wrists and arms
- adopt awkward hand positions
- regularly grip strongly
- place mechanical stress on their palm
- use vibrating equipment.
These actions can be required in a wide variety of jobs. So if you’re a carpenter, sewer, driver, assembly line worker or a heavy keyboard user then you could be at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Manufacturing industry workers, whose job typically demands long hours of hand and wrist use, have seen the greatest impact from damage caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, if you’re a production sewer you may be continuously pulling and grasping cloth, an assembly line worker will be handling objects on conveyor belts all day long, and a carpenter may be pressing tools into their palm and using vibrating equipment. Computer keyboard workers perform repetitive tasks using the keyboard and mouse throughout their day.
Your leisure pursuits may also contribute towards carpal tunnel syndrome. Weeding, knitting and playing stringed instruments with bow if carried out for long periods of time may influence the development of this syndrome.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
CTS occurs when your median nerve that runs from your forearm into the palm of your hand becomes compressed at the wrist. Your carpal tunnel is a narrow and rigid passageway of ligament and bones that houses the median nerve. Swelling of the tendons reduces the space in your carpal tunnels and your median nerve can become squeezed and sometimes injured.
How do I know if I’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome?
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) include:
- a pain or an ache in your fingers, hand or arm
- numbness in your hands
- a tingling feeling or pins and needles in your thumb and fingers
- a weak thumb
- difficulty gripping and a loss of manual dexterity
Often these symptoms start slowly and may come and go. They are often worse at night.
Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome
Your job is only one of the risk factors associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Other risk factors include:
- Heredity - if have a parent, brother or sister with CTS.
- Pregnancy - hormonal changes related to pregnancy.
- Medical conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity.
- Previous wrist injury
Prevention of CTS
There are many ways to help prevent workplace-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
Taking frequent breaks, performing stretching and strengthening exercises, ensuring correct posture and wrist position are simple preventative actions that can help prevent CTS. You should also try to avoid working in cold temperatures as this can lessen sensation in your hands and fingers.
Proper work station design can also reduce awkward wrist positions and minimise the effects of repetitive motions. You should discuss this with your employer if you think your work station could be improved.
How is CTS diagnosed
If you suspect you have CTS an early diagnosis and treatment may help to avoid permanent damage to your median nerve.
You should consult a doctor who will consider your medical history and a comprehensive clinical examination. They may perform: a Tinel's test (tapping your median nerve at the wrist so see if you have a tingling response in one or more of your fingers), Phalen's test (putting the backs of your hands together and bending the wrists to find out if you have tingling of your fingers) and electromyography (using electrodes on your forearm and passing an electrical current to measure the speed and efficiency of message transmission through your median nerve).
Treatment options for CTS
Treatment will be based on the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome. These include:
Wrist splints to help immobilise your wrist Steroid injections to reduce the swelling around your nerve and ease the symptoms of CTS. Surgery - a short day case operation performed under local anaesthetic. Carpal tunnel release surgery involves making a small incision in your hand and cutting the carpal ligament so that it no longer puts pressure on your median nerve. It’s a common procedure and usually cures CTS.