Have you been experiencing sharp pain, tingling, and numbness in your hands when performing repetitive tasks or after waking up? The chances are that you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It feels like needles and pins on steroids. Besides, the condition is classified as one of the common nerve compression disorders of the upper extremity.
The good thing about carpal tunnel syndrome is that early treatment can help to completely resolve the issues fueling the condition. In this post, we will dig deeper into the condition and highlight seven things you probably did not know about it.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) Problem is all about One Nerve
While the problem of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) might feel like it is affecting different parts of the body, the truth is that only the median nerve is affected. This is the nerve that runs from the forearm into the index finger, thumb, and middle fingers. The nerve is encased in a canal referred to as a carpal tunnel.
When this nerve fails to get enough blood flow, it makes the hand feel as if it is tingling. If the problem persists or the nerve is under pressure, you start experiencing sharp pain and numbness.
Carpel tunnel syndrome strikes when you are using hands to do repetitive tasks such as driving, typing or talking on the phone. Often, the symptoms make you to instinctively shake the hands in order to get rid of the bad sensation. In some cases, the problem can become bothersome at night and immediately after waking up.
The Condition Arises from a Combination of Factors as Opposed to the Nerve itself
While the problem of Carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) is more about the median nerve, it results from a combination of factors. Some of the main causative factors include injury such as fracture on the wrist that causes swelling on the hand. Other causes of the condition include:
- Underactive thyroid gland.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Mechanical problems on the wrist.
- Repeated use of high vibration tools.
- Fluid retention and hormonal changes during menopause or pregnancy.
- Development of tumor in the carpal tunnel.
Note: In most of the cases, the condition rarely manifests itself because of a single cause. Instead, your doctor is likely to pinpoint a number of causative factors.
If Left Untreated, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can Cause Permanent Nerve Damage
In most of the cases, Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) will bother you only at certain times than others. However, it will get worse with time if left untreated. The only exception of this scenario is if the causative factor is identified and cleared from the equation. For example, if carpal tunnel syndrome resulted from weight gain during pregnancy, it will end after delivery.
In other cases, it is paramount to see a doctor if you think you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Your doctor will carry further physical examination, run tests such as electromyogram or do an X-ray to establish how the median nerve is functioning. Then, you will be helped to craft an action plan depending on carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) severity.
There are Two Types of Non-surgical Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
If carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed early enough, it is possible to treat it without resulting to surgery. Here are the main non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Using a cold press. If you are experiencing inflammation on the median nerve, placing something cold on the hand can help to calm it. Consider placing ice on the aching section for about 10 minutes. Note that over icing can reduce blood flow!
- Splinting or bracing: If you wear a medical splint/ brace, it helps to keep the wrist from bending. This assists to reduce pressure on the median nerve. You should also consider wearing a splint when doing repetitive tasks during the day.
- Steroid injection: The common medication used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome are cortisone or corticosteroid. These are anti-inflammation medications that are injected into the carpal tunnel to relieve painful symptoms. The medications are considered temporary relief of the problem.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Instead of using steroid-based medication, your doctor might recommend the use of NSAIDS such as naproxen or ibuprofen depending on the exhibited symptoms.
Surgery is the Last Line of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) Treatment
If the use of non-surgical medication does not help to provide relief from carpal tunnel syndrome, the doctor might recommend a surgical procedure. A surgical procedure is recommended if you are suffering from wasting of thumb muscles and experiencing long instances of constant numbness. The surgical process (carpal tunnel release) is aimed at helping to relieve pressure from the median nerve. Here are the two main types of carpal tunnel release procedures:
Open carpal tunnel release
This process involves making a small incision on the palm and wrist. During the procedure, the doctor divides the roof of the carpal tunnel (carpal ligament) to reduce pressure on the median nerve. After the surgery, the ligaments will grow but leave ample space for the median nerve.
Endoscopic carpal tunnel release
In this type of surgery, the doctor makes one or two skin incisions and uses an endoscope to check the inside of the wrist and hand. Then, a special knife is used to divide the carpal ligaments just like in the open carpal tunnel release.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can be prevented without Throwing out the Keyboard
One of the common recommendations that you get for addressing carpal tunnel syndrome is changing your lifestyle by shifting to things that do not require repetitive actions. However, you do not have to change your career or throw away the keyboard. Instead, you should consider taking breaks when doing repetitive tasks such as typing on the keyboard. For example, if you spend most of the time typing on the keyboard, consider taking 5-10 minutes every one or two-hour cycle.
Doctors also recommend that you do regular stretching to avoid straining the wrists, hands, and fingers. Here are some of the recommended stretches:
- Holding hands up like a policeman stopping traffic. Make sure to also flex and extend the wrist.
- Make regular fists and then extend the fingers fully.
- Use one hand to firmly press the fingers of the other hand. Make sure to repeat the process for a couple of moments.
Furthermore, it is prudent to have an ergonomic working environment designed to prevent pain and aches. The aim of an ergonomic workplace should not be only targeted at the hands and wrist. Instead, it should help to keep the entire body healthy all the time.
Recovery after Surgery to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can Take Months
If you opt for surgical treatment to address carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to appreciate that recovery requires patience. The hand’s strength and pinch will fully resume after about two to three months. However, it could take six to twelve months to regain full strength if the condition of the median nerve was very poor prior to surgery.
If there are other problems such as tendonitis and arthritis, recovery could take longer. The doctor could even refer you to a hand therapist for further assistance.
To accelerate the recovery process, it is advisable to regularly elevate the affected hand slightly above the heart and move fingers regularly to reduce stiffness. Besides, you might need to wear a wrist brace for a couple of weeks to help with recovery.
During the recovery period, you should anticipate some swelling, stiffness, and mild pain. These symptoms are especially common immediately after surgery.
Depending on the nature of surgery and level of carpal tunnel syndrome condition, the doctor may recommend that you only work on light tasks. To stay free from the problem after recovery, it is advisable to try and avoid the causative factors as much as possible.
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), the problem can greatly affect your lifestyle. Simple tasks such as typing, driving and using your phone can become a nightmare because of tingling and sharp pain on the hand. The ideal way to address the problem is seeking medical help and proper treatment.
It is also prudent to look at the condition holistically to ensure you understand it well. This will be critical to preventing the problem from getting worse or reoccurring after treatment. The above seven things you probably did not know about carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) will help you to understand and prevent the problem from recurring.