Understanding carpal tunnel syndrome is important since it affects more workers than previously thought. Individuals who perform manual labor and those who spend long hours at a computer keyboard increasingly suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Previously carpal tunnel syndrome seemed limited to those performing manual labor. Now, however, this condition seems to affect a far larger population of workers.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow pathway on the palm side of your wrist. A strong ligament and the carpal bones of your wrist cover this pathway. Both the median nerve and the tendons that allow your fingers to bend pass through the carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when excessive pressure pinches the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel. This excessive pressure may occur due to overuse of tendons, fractures or dislocations of the wrist and fluid retention during pregnancy. In addition, it may occur due to normal wear and tear.
Pressure on the median nerve is usually the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. This nerve controls sensation on the palm-side of the hand and fingers. Pressure on this nerve may cause a feeling some describe as “pins and needles”. Eventually such pressure may lead to severe pain and/or loss of sensation. In addition, if the muscles surrounding the thumb weaken, some experience a loss of the grip strength essential for daily living.
When carpal tunnel syndrome is work-related, the cause is generally repetitive movements throughout the course of a day. Such movements result in overuse of the structures that pass through the carpal tunnel. Such movements increase pressure on the median nerve due to inflammation. People who work on production lines who move their hands and arms through fully flexed or extended positions are often susceptible. Computer keyboard operators are also at risk since the wrist remains in an extended position for long periods.
Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Treating This Condition
Even though carpal tunnel syndrome surgery is relatively simple, there are some measures that often help control the disorder. It is important to maintain the wrist in a neutral position when performing strenuous activities at work or at home. If it is difficult to maintain a neutral position, then you can wear a splint on your wrist both at work and at night.
Many find that periodic breaks from work activities significantly reduce symptoms. So, give your hands a rest if possible. It is also important that you watch how you grasp objects. Gripping with the thumb and index fingers alone place a lot of stress on the wrist. Try using your whole hand when possible.
Remember, you can condition your hand, wrist and arm to perform strenuous activities with less stress to the wrist. Strengthening and flexibility exercises along with education on proper positioning of the wrist are beneficial.
Thomas Suspenski, PT, ATC
797 E Lancaster Ave. Suite 2
Please refer to patient education for other brief articles in our educational series. It is through these articles, in part, that we keep our patients (and others) informed of common injuries and conditions, their treatment and healthcare in general.