Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition caused because of compression of the median nerve in the hand. This median nerve is located on the palm side, called the carpal tunnel, and is basically responsible for delivering sensation to the thumb, index finger, long finger, and a portion of the ring finger. The median nerve provides an impulse to the muscles leading to the thumb. Since the syndrome affects the carpal tunnel (palm), it is referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome.
The problem can affect both hands. It can lead to swelling in the wrists which can further cause compression in the carpal tunnel. The problem causes weakness, numbness, and tingling on the part on the side of the thumb.
Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome
Excessive pressure on the wrist or the carpal tunnel can cause pain in the affected area. The inflammation can lead to swelling. It typically occurs due to an underlying condition, which causes swelling in the wrist, and also restricts the blood flow. Some common medical conditions that could potentially lead to a carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- High blood glucose levels
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Retention of fluid due to pregnancy or menopause
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune issues
- Trauma or injury to the wrist
- Fracture of the wrist
The condition can worsen if the patient does not seek treatment and continues to extend the wrist repeatedly. Recurring wrist motions cause swelling and compression of the median nerve due to the below causes:
- Incorrect positioning of the wrists while using keyboards and mouse
- Extended contact with vibrations from hand and power tools
- Particular repeated motions that overextend the wrist, such as playing the piano, typing on the laptop, etc.
Risk of carpal tunnel syndrome
Some aspects that put a person more at risk for developing this syndrome than others, include:
- Gender; women are three times more prone to this issue than men
- Men and women between the ages of 30-60 years
- Specific medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, etc.
- Lifestyle aspects such as smoking, laidback physical attitude, high body mass index (BMI), high salt intake, etc.
- occupations, including manufacturing jobs, assembly link work, construction work, and other professions that require excessive keyboard usage
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome tend to appear in the nerve path due to the compression of the median nerve. Some common symptoms that can point towards a possible problem include:
- Frequent sleeping of the hand and losing control of motion
- Pain and numbness that moves up the arm
- Wrist pain which hampers sleep at night
- Weakened muscles of the hand
Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome
A doctor can use all or any of these methods to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome in a patient. These include:
- A physical examination by extending pressure on the impacted area and checking the pain in different motions. The doctor will assess any signs of swelling, deformity, etc.
- Medical history of the patient
- Nerve conduction studies
In a general physical exam, the doctor checks the neck, wrist, shoulder, etc to detect any other reason for the pressure caused on the nerve. The doctor will also check the strength of the hand muscles and sensations to the fingers.
On the other hand, in a nerve study, the test provides a measurement of the conduction speed of the nerve impulses. If the nerve impulse moves slower than normal, the person may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
The type of treatment for this condition depends on the pain and symptoms, as well as the intensity of weakness. In most cases, the condition can be treated with non-invasive techniques such as below:
- Avoiding overextending the wrists in positions
- Wearing wrist splints that help the hand to stay in place, even at night
- Taking pain-relieving medication
- Taking medications to reduce swelling
- Treating underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
- Taking steroid injections in the carpal tunnel area to minimize swelling
On the other hand, surgery may be required if there is serious damage to the median nerve. The surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome involves removing the tissue band that crosses the median nerve to reduce the pressure on the nerve. However, the effectiveness of carpal tunnel syndrome surgery depends on the duration of the symptom, intensity of the problem, diabetes mellitus, weakness in the area, etc.
In the long-term, treating carpal tunnel syndrome with lifestyle modifications and therapy can provide relief from pain and even improve long-term symptoms. However, if the condition is left untreated, it can cause permanent nerve damage, disability, and loss of hand function.