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What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Causes, Symptoms And Treatment Options

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Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect anyone and cause painful, debilitating symptoms if left untreated. It presents with pain and discomfort starting in the wrist. It is estimated that around 5% of women and 3% of men are affected by carpal tunnel syndrome in the UK. The most common age to see symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome appear is 45 and 64 years old. Happily, the condition is normally straightforward to treat.Wearing a wrist splint is highly effective for the most part. Especially when combined with lifestyle or working changes, careful, medically approved hand and wrist exercises and ongoing monitoring of symptoms.

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What Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on your median in the wrist, causing it to become compressed or squeezed. This sends shooting pains, tingling and/or numbness and weakness across the wrist, hand and fingers. It can be treated, but sometimes takes a few months for the symptoms to ease fully.

The carpal tunnel itself is a narrow channel that runs through the wrist in between the wrist bones and transverse carpal ligament. The median nerve runs through the channel and as it is compressed, the carpal tunnel walls swell, lessening the space inside the channel.

Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include: 

  1. Being overweight 
  2. Pregnancy (e.g. fluid retention in the area) 
  3. Repeated bending of the wrist or gripping of the hand, especially when using handheld power tools or operating vibrating machines 
  4. Other conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes 
  5. Genetic propensity to the condition 
  6. Previous wrist injuries, including fractures and sprains 

What Are The Main Carpal Tunnel Symptoms?

Although the main indicator that carpal tunnel syndrome might be present is pain in the wrist, there are other signs to look out for too. These include pains, numbness or tingling in the arm, hand or fingers, particularly the thumb, index, middle ring fingers and palm side. The affected areas might become numb or weak, or you may experience tingling ‘pins and needles’ sensations. It might become harder to grip objects too.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome often feels worse at night, which can affect quality and amount of sleep. Symptoms are normally mild to being with, building up slowly until you are driven to seek help. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in just one wrist or in both. Symptoms can also be triggered by certain work activities or sport. Sometimes, playing a musical instrument can exacerbate symptoms. For example, playing the piano or using a bow for a stringed instrument.

How Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Be Treated?

The process will start with your doctor asking for a full medical condition, history and idea of your lifestyle. This is because they need to work out the risk factors and then decide upon the right way to treat your carpal tunnel syndrome. The good news is that it can in most cases be reversed. You may be asked to bend your wrist or have the area around the median nerve tapped or pressed to ascertain pain levels and flexibility. If this is not enough to confirm a diagnosis, you may need to undergo further tests. These could include a nerve conduction test to check for nerve damage and an ultrasound to reveal any underlying cases inside the wrist.

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You will normally be asked to wear a wrist splint or support. Choose one that fits properly and offers adequate support around the wrist and hand area. This will help ease pain and decompress the nerve by holding your wrist and hand in the right place. You may need to wear the splint at night only, or all of the time, depending on the severity of your case. Try to avoid bending the wrist or using vibrating tools while you heal.

You may also receive hand or ‘nerve glide’ exercises from a physiotherapist to help speed up recovery and help the nerve move more freely. In more serious cases, steroidal injections or wrist surgery is recommended. However, there is plenty that can be done to begin the healing process first for most people. It is important to keep your workplace informed of your diagnosis where relevant, so that appropriate adjustments can be made to your job role.

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