Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Symptoms, Treatment, Exercises & Causes

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome[1] is gaining popularity and becoming a common neuropathic syndrome. The dull aching or tinkling feeling which presents itself in hand or wrist is what is known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It can be treated with simple exercises. However, if left unchecked, corrective surgery is the only way out.

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME [CTS]

One thing that makes humans different from animals is the fact that we have fingers which can be used for gripping things or be holding them. But overuse of the wrist and the hands can render the majority of our hand useless. This is exactly where CTS comes into the picture.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is known to cause numbness, dull ache or a tingling sensation in the arm. It is the direct fallout of extra pressure on the median nerve. It is the nerve responsible for providing sensation to a significant part of the hand. When this is under duress, whose result we see in thumb, index and middle finger. Even half of the ring finger is not left unaffected. Only the little finger escapes the brunt. The median also affects a clump of muscles at the base of the thumb. It earns its name because of the effect of the carpal tunnel on the median nerve.

The carpal tunnel is fundamentally a narrow passage made out of a number bones arranged in a semicircular manner. A canopy of a ligament covers the top of this passage. Through this passage runs the ever essential tendons, which connect the muscles to the bone, and also the median nerve.

Over the course of our lives due to strenuous activity and overuse of our hands and wrists, leading to swelling in tendons. The tendons narrow the already small passage of the carpal tunnel. The narrow passage causes extra strain on the median nerve.

It starts off with a tingling, numbness or sometimes burning or itching. If left untreated it graduates to persistent dull pain. Things get out of hand, no pun intended, when the nerve entrapment causes severe ache eventually leading to permanent numbness in the fingers and muscle groups. Weakened muscles will lead to incapacitated movements.

WHO IS IT GOING TO AFFECT MOST LIKELY?

It’s the most common and a widespread case of entrapment neuropathies. It is not prevalent among people younger than 20 years of age. It is most common in people between 45 and 60, so we can observe that it is because of old age.

  • Heredity, when small carpal tunnel run in the family.
  • Pregnancy which is because of fluid buildup in wrist tissues.
  • Any previous wrist dislocation or fracture.
  • Any deformation present in the wrist or hand.
  • Alcoholism
  • Hypothyroidism, where thyroid hormone imbalance affects the bones.
  • Diabetes.
  • Arthritis, which affects joints.
  • In some cases, it is also because of the profession. Professions which includes a lot of wrist action like golf or tennis.
  • Excessive use of computers and other gadgets which isolate the wrist movement in a limited direction.

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME SYMPTOMS

  1. As specified multiple times earlier, carpal tunnel symptoms include pain, numbness, and a dull ache.
  2.  It aggravates to a lowered function of the muscles groups.
  3. Over a period, the continued stress on the median nerve will damage the nerve leading to catastrophic outcomes.
  4. The symptoms usually flare up during nights and when it is cooler in comparison. Same reason why joints hurt more when it is colder.

 

TREATMENT OF CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

When carpal tunnel syndrome is still in its initial stages, people can treat it with home remedies. Home remedies include specific self-help tips.

SELF-HELP TIPS

  • Giving less stress to the hand and wrist and giving it rest at frequent intervals. This will keep the swelling at a check and will avoid overwork by the tendons.
  • A cold compress is advisable. It will help with the swelling. But special care must be taken not to let ice in direct contact with the skin.
  • The excessive movements which cause CTS, one must avoid them if possible. If not possible then they should at least be controlled.
  • Physical therapy also helps rein in the problem to manageable levels.
  • Splints can be used to restrict the movement of the wrist.
  • Carpal tunnel wrist braces and bands also work on the same principle.
Wrist Brace

These are some steps that can be adopted to keep carpal tunnel syndrome in check. However, if the pain persists and is beyond the bearing threshold, then medical help must be sought.

 

EXERCISES TO CONTROL CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

Exercise prescribed by trained physical therapists must be followed and performed religiously. Almost all exercises principally involve stretching and strengthening. Pain-free stretching is advised before moving on to strengthening; else the outcome will not be significant. Some exercise techniques are as follows.

  1. Shaking:  If numbness or pain starts, shake your hands like you are trying to air dry them after washing it. Repeating this for a minute or two every hour keeps the median nerve from being entrapped.
  2. Fist and Stop exercise: First, make a fist.  Open the fist and spread the fingers and point them upwards like when you stop someone. Repeat it 5-10 times.
  3. Necessary wrist stretching and extension:  Extend one arm in front of the body up to shoulder level. Point the fingers upwards. Grasp these fingers with the free hand and pull them towards your body until you feel your wrists stretching. It must be done gently to avoid further damage. 20 to 30 seconds per hand is sufficient.
  4. Increasing lower arm strength:  After stretching proceed to strengthen. Strengthening is done to prevent the muscles from tightening up over and over again. Place arm on the table with the wrist over the edge. Extend your hand up and then bring it down. Turn your arm around, so the palm faces the ceiling. Flex the wrist all the way. Doing this ten times helps strengthen the muscles.
  5. Grip strengthening:  Squeezing a stress relief ball or a tennis ball such that pads of the fingers are firmly holding the ball can strengthen the grip. Should be repeated 5-10 times.

 

 

MEDICATION

Medication must be used if the inflammation doesn’t reduce despite following the correct protocol. Corticosteroids injections may be administered directly to the carpal tunnel to keep the swelling in check. Medication is also present in the ingestible format like pills. Dosage must be, however, decided by the doctor and the doses as well. General pain-relieving medicine can be used as an interim option.

SURGERY

When none of this works, the only other option is to opt for surgery. Although there are lots of myths surrounding this surgery, it is but inevitable. The alternative will be severe nerve damage which can cause a lot of trouble. The procedure seems to be the better option among the two. The operation is done when symptoms show no indication of subsiding even after the treatment for six months. Surgeries are notoriously famous for their postoperative complications such as bleeding, injury to the nerve and scarring. Despite all this, the carpal tunnel syndrome corrective surgery has a success rate of 90 percent.

It is a straightforward surgery. It’s also called carpal tunnel decompression. The primary goal is to relieve the pressure on the median nerve. They achieve this by cutting the ligament which forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This widens the tunnel, and more breathing space is warranted to the median nerve. It’s an outpatient procedure which means the patient doesn’t even have to stay overnight for observation.

 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is becoming very common now. Hence, special care must be taken, and it should be nipped at the bud.

Disease & Disability, Fitness, Health

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