People have become more familiar with the condition of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) recently. People working with typewriters, computers and cash registers, some musicians and factory workers (meat and fish packers; airplane assembly) are all prone to this syndrome and this case is known as a repetitive motion injury. In addition, arthritis, pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, and some pituary abnormalities also lead to CTS.What happens with CTS is that the median nerve in the wrist is compressed. This nerve is responsible for movement and sensation in the hand. It passes through a small passageway created by bones and ligaments in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. If there is a swelling in this area the nerve’s functioning will be affected.
It is estimated that women aged 30 to 60 are most prone to developing CTS and are more likely to develop it than men. Older people are more at risk than younger people.
The symptoms manifest themselves as tingling, burning, numbness, and a pricking sensation that spreads over the palm and touches the forefinger, middle finger and thumb and some part of the ring finger also. There may also be a pain traveling from the wrist to the arm and shoulder or to the hand and fingers. Symptoms progress over weeks, months, or years. If the symptoms persist then the person affected may develop a weakness in the muscles making it difficult for him to grasp objects. If left untreated, the muscles start to atrophy and may lead to weakness, loss in sensation, or paralysis.
There are no tests that can identify a specific cause for CTS. It is likely that a lack of oxygen and decreased blood flow can lead to the swelling in the wrist. Some work conditions described earlier or medical problems such as autoimmune diseases can also lead to CTS. If you’ve had an injury, or surgery or fracture of the hand, wrist or forearm you may develop CTS years later. Abnormalities of the hand or wrist can also cause CTS. Notably, people build up a protein called beta-2 microglobulin when they have had hemodialysis for severe kidney damage and the greater the buildup the more the risk of CTS. Alternatively, other medical conditions that cause CTS are amyloidosis, Down’s Syndrome, and acromegaly. Sometimes a tumor that has developed on the median nerve can cause CTS and surgery will improve this condition. Some kinds of medications, hormonal changes, and finally genetic factors can all lead to this syndrome. Specifically in women, breastfeeding, the postpartum time, and menopause can all cause temporary or permanent CTS.
It has also been established that smoking and alcohol abuse are associated with CTS. Stress, poor nutrition (with high levels of low density lipoprotein), and previous injuries lead to a higher risk of CTS.
CTS can be a minor temporary condition or become a major crippling disease so that the sufferers are no longer able to live normal lives. The constant pain and the inability to perform their daily tasks such as driving a car or working in the kitchen or following their usual hobbies all affect the individual. This can lead to severe depression.
There is no single method of prevention. The underlying medical condition can be treated but for the rest its just common sense that reduces the risk factors and minimizes the risk of developing CTS. Less stress should be laid on the wrist and hands. The work area should be made more comfortable. Good posture and exercise will help relieve and strengthen the shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers. Adequate rest should be taken at intervals and tasks should be varied.
CTS can be a crippling condition so approach it with common sense and knowledge.