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What You Need To Know About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Oct 24 2013

Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Post by Dr. Lee M Kupersmith

Sitting behind a computer, sometimes for 12+ hours a day, could lead to constant strain on wrists and fingers. Here at South Island Orthopedics of Long Island, our orthopedic doctors specialize in treating hand and wrist injuries, one of the most common being carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and its Most Common Symptoms?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes compressed or squeezed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually consist of a feeling of numbness and tingling in the hand, most commonly the thumb, index finger and long fingers.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Repetitive Motions: Jobs that require frequent and repetitive hand and wrist movements, such as typing or assembly line work, can put strain on the wrist and contribute to CTS.

Forceful Activities: Activities that require firm and prolonged gripping or pinching, such as using hand tools, may increase pressure on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel.

Awkward Hand Positions: Work that involves maintaining awkward hand positions, especially if they involve extreme flexion or extension of the wrist, can increase the risk of developing CTS.

Vibration: Prolonged exposure to hand-arm vibration from tools and machinery, such as chainsaws or jackhammers, can contribute to the development of CTS.

Pressure on the Wrist: Prolonged pressure on the wrist, as can occur when resting on a hard surface while typing, can also be a risk factor for CTS.

Who Is Most Likely To Be Affected By Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Anyone can be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. However, the risk of suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome increases as you age get older. On average, Women have a smaller carpal tunnel than men and are more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome over men, especially during pregnancy. 

While repetitive motions and work-related activities can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome, there are also other factors that can play a role in the development of CTS:

  • Genetics
  • Underlying health conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Hormonal changes, especially pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Smoking cigarettes

Can Carpal Tunnel Be Caused By Work Related Activities?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can certainly be caused by the required repetition of a person’s profession. Those who are in a line of work where they use their hands often, such as typists, hair stylists, and manual laborers  are especially at risk. Welders, construction workers, and electricians who repeatedly use heavy electric tools are at a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome as well. Many employers have ergonomic guidelines and accommodations to help reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome causes in the workplace.

How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

You can take several steps to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome such as:

  • Posture and form: Incorrect posture in your neck and shoulders can affect the nerves in the neck, which can in turn affect your wrists and hands. The way in which you rest your hands on a keyboard can also affect your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. It is important to keep your keyboard slightly lower than elbow height so that your wrists are in a relaxed position that isn’t too high or low.
  • Less force/grip: Hitting keys softer on a keyboard or using a pen with an oversized grip and good ink flow will decrease the need to exert your wrist and hands.
  • Microbreaks: Taking small 3-minute breaks to stretch out your limbs, lean back in a chair, or squeeze your shoulder blades together can increase blood flow and limit the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome.

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated in various ways, depending on the severity of the condition. Treatment options range from conservative, non-invasive methods to surgical interventions. The choice of treatment depends on the individual’s specific circumstances and the recommendations of an orthopedic care specialist.

Non-Surgical Orthopedic Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Rest and Activity Modification: In mild cases, simply resting the affected hand and avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms can be effective. This might include taking breaks during activities that involve the wrist and hands.
  • Wrist Splints: Wearing a wrist splint, especially at night, can help keep the wrist in a neutral position and relieve pressure on the median nerve. This is often one of the first-line treatments for mild to moderate CTS.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can provide exercises and techniques to strengthen and stretch the wrist and hand muscles. These exercises can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of recurrence.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, corticosteroid injections into the carpal tunnel may be recommended to alleviate symptoms.
  • Ergonomic Modifications: Making ergonomic adjustments to your workspace or changing the way you perform tasks can reduce the strain on your wrist and help prevent CTS from worsening.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Managing contributing factors like obesity, smoking, or underlying medical conditions such as diabetes can be important in treating and preventing CTS.

Carpal Tunnel Surgery 

Carpal Tunnel Surgery, also known as Carpal Tunnel Release, is used in cases where symptoms are severe, persistent, or not responsive to conservative treatments. During this surgery, the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel is cut to relieve pressure on the median nerve. It can often be performed by an orthopedic surgeon endoscopically, which involves smaller incisions and quicker recovery compared to traditional open surgery.

Surgery is not always required, but if needed, is usually performed under general anesthesia or local anesthesia with sedation on an outpatient basis. During carpal tunnel surgery, tissue that is causing pressure on the nerve is released. Often, physical therapy is recommended after orthopedic surgery to help expedite the patient’s recovery process. 

 If I Get Carpal Tunnel, What Should I Do?

The choice of treatment depends on the individual’s specific condition, including the severity and duration of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, overall health, the presence of other medical conditions, and many other factors. It’s essential to consult with an orthopedic surgeon or doctor for a proper diagnosis and to discuss the most suitable treatment options. Schedule an appointment with a orthopedic doctor who specializes in carpal tunnel treatment today, as early intervention improves the chances of successful symptom relief and prevention of long-term nerve damage.

For more information on hand surgeries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and orthopedic  physical therapy, contact the SIO team to schedule a consultation at one of our four locations in Long Island, NY.

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Posted in: Hand & Wrist, Pain Management