Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A condition everyone should take notice of as it affects more than 2.7% of society. And the age of onset is almost frightening. With most cases reported when patients are between 40 and 50 years old, this is something that can strike well before retirement. Unfortunately, the symptoms can affect one’s day to day life quite drastically.
Is there anything you can do to prevent, treat or alleviate symptoms? Find some answers and comfort while we answer five of the most frequently asked questions about carpal tunnel syndrome causes and treatment below.
But first, a few facts to help you understand this unique medical condition.
If this is something you’re facing you’re obviously looking for carpal tunnel relief so this doesn’t keep you from functioning optimally. It’s important to understand the condition and carpal tunnel anatomy in order to partner with medical professionals and do correct carpal tunnel home treatment. The latter is essential in returning to normal functioning.
To understand carpal tunnel syndrome hand anatomy definitions go a long way in giving you some clarity:
- Carpal Tunnel: The narrow passage formed by carpal bones, inside the wrist. The tunnel is +/- 1” wide. The roof is formed by the carpal ligament. All its boundaries are strong (bone and ligament) minimizing its capacity to stretch.
- Carpal Ligament: The transverse carpal ligament is the top barrier of the tunnel and formed by very strong connective tissue.
- Median Nerve: This is what allows your fingers (except your small finger) to have feeling. It originates in the neck as a collection of nerves. It develops into a single one in the arm and runs through the carpal tunnel towards your hand.
- Synovium: Tissue surrounding the nine tendons that allows fingers to bend. The synovium lubricates the tendons.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: When the median nerve experiences pressure (and of course becomes painful) because the synovium swells or if the tunnel becomes very narrow. Pressure can have a number of effects on a nerve, which leads to the syndrome being associated with pain, but also numbness and other sensations.
How Do You Get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Quite a few scenarios can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Keep it in mind as a possibility, so you can start treating it when the first symptoms occur, even before you go for a carpal tunnel syndrome test:
- Hand use: If you repeatedly use the same hand in particular positions, the tendons can become aggravated, which is when the Synovium will swell. This is why you may experience the syndrome in one hand only, therefore only requiring one carpal tunnel splint (see below). Certain work scenarios may require someone to put one or both their hands in extreme positions (either flexing or extending the wrist). Over time this can cause irritation, damage and eventually pressure leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Heredity: You may inherit certain physiological features, such as a small carpal tunnel. Even minor swelling or movement can then cause pressure on the median nerve.
- Pregnant women: Hormones can affect all parts of the body and if a pregnant woman’s condition leads to swelling it can even occur in the wrist.
Health challenges: Many conditions that relate to swelling, joint problems and even general imbalances can cause pressure inside the carpal tunnel:
- Thyroid problems
- Diabetic conditions
Is Carpal Tunnel Serious?
How do you define ‘serious’? Let’s start by saying this condition involves three factors that most people consider serious symptoms:
- It’s painful
- It rarely goes away by its own
- It can’t always be cured
However, there is hope since this is the 21st century where medical treatment has helped many people with this condition. They now live without pain once again. Today the success rate of treatments (even surgeries) is well above 75%. And to add to the good news, less than 4% of patients return for revision surgeries later on.
So, treatment is most likely to solve your problem. But that doesn’t mean you can do as you please. Waiting too long to have it treated properly, only doing a carpal tunnel test at home or continuing with the activities that cause the swelling and inflammation will most probably lead to more pain. In due time you may cause irreparable damage, or you’ll need surgery for something that originally only required proper rest of your hand.
Therefore, while the condition itself isn’t overly serious, you need to take your response to the symptoms very seriously.
How Do You Know You Have Carpal Tunnel in Your Wrist?
Here’s a small upside to this condition. It won’t be something your doctor accidentally discovers months after it’s too late to treat it. Because of the nature of the syndrome (causing pain and discomfort) as well as it being situated in a limb which is used often, you’ll notice it easily.
Of course you can’t make the diagnosis yourself; the symptoms can be caused by other conditions too, so check in with your doctor. In most cases the pain and discomfort start gradually and increase over time. It may even disappear at times, only to return.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
So, if any of these present themselves and simply won’t go away (and keeps occurring for longer periods upon each return), it’s time to visit your doctor:
- Pain: Carpal Tunnel can cause pain in the hand, but even as high as the forearm. In extreme cases it may feel as if it’s your shoulder that’s affected too. This can be intense pain, or slight tingling. You may feel carpal tunnel pain while sleeping or when you’re active.
- Weak hands: Does your hands simply don’t feel up to the task? Carpal Tunnel weakens your hands and can even make you clumsy. You may drop things for no reason other than that your hands aren’t capable to hold on. This can happen with or without pain.
- Sensations in your hand: Apart from pain and tingling you may also experience shock like feelings traveling to your fingers.
- Numb hands: Numbness usually occurs in the fingers, and will of course enhance the clumsiness mentioned above.
- Burning: You may notice a burning feeling traveling through the hand, once again centering around the fingers.
- Swelling: Your fingers may swell.
- Deterioration: You may not be able to make a fist any longer.
An interesting feature of this condition is that you may often experience carpal tunnel symptoms at night, more than during the day. This could be because people tend to sleep with bent wrists. This habit then places more pressure on the median nerve than during the day. As it worsens you may start waking up from the carpal tunnel pain.
Testing for Carpal Tunnel
Once you’re in the doctor’s office, if carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms all point to this syndrome, you’ll undergo various carpal tunnel test procedures to determine the severity of the condition:
- Physical examination
- Electrophysiological tests
- Studying nerve conduction
- An ultra sound
- Taking x rays
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
What is the Best Thing to Do for Carpal Tunnel?
Luckily it’s the 21st century and although this is a serious condition, there are some things you can do. Depending on the severity, your physician may suggest invasive (surgical) treatment or non-invasive solutions.
Non Invasive Carpal Tunnel Treatment
The good news is that you can start with a range of carpal tunnel home exercises and general treatments that may alleviate the problem. This can include:
- Steroids: Doctors use Corticosteroids and cortisone to counter the inflammation. While this can help and be used in conjunction with other treatments, this won’t heal your hand on its own. If the cause is hand use (see above) you’ll also have to change your routine.
- NSAID: Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs help to stop pain and inflammation
- Splinting: A carpal tunnel brace forces your hand, wrist and arm into a certain position. Your doctor will assist in adjusting the carpal tunnel relief brace so there’s no pressure on the median nerve. The goal is not to have the joint bend at all. Wearing this for long enough (usually +/- 4 weeks) may lead to the inflammation and swelling completely disappearing. However, after the brace is removed you’ll have to be careful about how you use that wrist.
- Yoga: This is an alternative treatment method, but strengthening joints is a good idea and it can help improve your grip.
- Ultrasound: This focuses on raising body temperature in certain areas. Heat is known to speed up healing and counter pain.
- Hand therapy: Occupational therapy can counter some symptoms and help improve functioning.
- Acupuncture: While not a proven remedy, some patients find relief.
Your doctor will determine the best option based on symptoms and lifestyle.
Invasive Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Note that this is usually the last resort, only to be used if a patient doesn’t respond well to other treatments. As it will take a while for anyone to recover from surgery, it’s best to try other carpal tunnel syndrome treatment options first.
The goal of this approach is to relieve pressure inside the wrist. This can happen if you cut a ligament. Severing this ligament which presses on the nerve can instantly bring relief and it’s done either through endoscopic or open surgery.
In ideal situations this is effective, but you face some risks:
- The ligament may not be released 100% correctly
- The wound can get infected
- Bleeding can occur after closing up the wound
- The nerves and arteries can be damaged during the operation
- You may be left with a scar afterwards that can be tender as well as causing some patients to be self conscious about it
Therefore, there’s always the hope that carpal tunnel exercises and non invasive treatments will be enough.
How Can I Treat Carpal Tunnel at Home?
Even before you head to the doctor you may have the need to treat some symptoms. These carpal tunnel home treatment options will at least give temporary relief.
You may find some relief if you put effort into working this into your routine:
- Losing weight so there’s less pressure on limbs and joints
- Rotating joints often during the day
- Stretch your limbs, your palms and fingers at regular intervals
If you feel the pain during the day you can use these tactics. Don’t do it for too long or continuously; only for 10 minutes at a time, every two hours:
- Place ice on the affected wrist
- Use an AidBrace Wrist Support Wrap
- Use warm water (100°F) to soak the hand
- Soak your hand in an ice bath
- Stop activities that put your wrist under pressure (see above)
Remember to rest your hands as much as possible
When you wake from carpal tunnel pain at night you may not want to get up and go get the ice.
Luckily, you can wear an AidBrace Night Wrist Brace for sleep and it will prevent your hand from closing and wrist from bending. It will help relieve the pressure build up in your wrist during slumber providing you with a more peaceful and restful sleep.
Handy tip: Try to get out of the habit of sleeping on your hands.
In many cases these aren’t long term solutions. If long periods of rest don’t eradicate the problem completely you’ll need to consult a doctor.
Here’s the most important fact after reading this article today: You can prevent many carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms from occurring or getting worse by being attentive to what your body tells you. And with a few tactics listed above you can enjoy life a lot longer without pain in your hands.
Do you have any other questions that need answering? Please leave your thoughts below.