You have probably heard the term Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) before- but what is it? CTS is a feeling of pain, tingling, weakness, or numbness in the hand and fingers. It is caused by compression of the median nerve which runs through the carpal tunnel.
The carpal tunnel explained:
The carpal tunnel is just like it sounds- a tunnel! It runs from the wrist to the hand and acts as a passageway for 9 tendons and the median nerve. As you can imagine, this is quite a lot of structures to pass through one fairly small space so sometimes the nerve becomes compressed and can cause symptoms in the hand.
What causes Carpal Tunnel syndrome?
Compression of the nerve occurs when there is added pressure on it. This can be caused by swelling, inflammation, or fractures. Basically, anything that can cause the space within the carpal tunnel to become narrower.
Can it be treated?
The good news is we can treat carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment can be in the form of exercises to allow the nerve to move more freely, analysing hand position throughout your daily life, anti-inflammatory drugs, braces or splints, or steroid injections. If these methods do not help, then surgery may need to be considered. The aim of surgery is to release the pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This allows more space in the carpal tunnel and even when the ligament heals, the carpal tunnel space is still increased. The surgery can be done by making an incision in the palm of your hand, or it can be done endoscopically using smaller incisions. Your physiotherapist can also provide treatment to maximise your healing post-surgery so you can get the best outcome.
Who are in risk of developing CTS?
Some people will be more prone to getting carpal tunnel syndrome than others. Pre-disposing factors include: anatomy (if your carpal tunnel is particularly small), sex (women are more commonly affected than men), chronic illness (conditions like diabetes can cause nerve damage), inflammatory conditions (rheumatoid arthritis can cause a narrowing of the carpal tunnel), some medications, obesity, fluid retention, and workplace factors (repetitive or prolonged hand positions can cause aggravation of symptoms) among others.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent CTS. You can try relaxing your grip, taking frequent breaks from what you are doing, being more aware of your hand position throughout the day, improving your posture to prevent compression at earlier points in the median nerve, using an ergonomic mouse for your computer, and keeping your hands warm.
Physiotherapy treatment can also help; using manual techniques and specific exercises we can release the tension on the nerve and help reduce the symptoms. We can also use injection as part of our treatment, combined with careful guidance on the aftercare the results are very often positive.
If you are struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome then get in touch here