“How to prevent Carpal Tunnel?” It is not an easy question to answer. First, we need to know all about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition characterized by a group of signs and symptoms. It results from the compression of a nerve that controls the sensitivity of almost all of your hands. It is a very common condition. In the US only, there are 1-3 news cases in every 1000 inhabitants every year. Around 50 people in every 1000 suffer from this condition.
Worldwide, the numbers are very similar. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome does not cause death but can lead to permanent nerve damage. There is a peak of getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome around 45 to 60 years old. Around one-tenth of the patients will develop CTS before 30 years old.
If you want to know more about this condition, we encourage you to keep reading. This way, you’ll find all the frequently asked questions about this disease. And the best part, all answered by a doctor, but in the simplest of words. Everything from what causes it, its symptoms, and ways to prevent this uncomfortable condition. By the end of this reading, you’ll end up with integral knowledge about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that result from the compression of the median nerve. This nerve comes from the axilla and goes all the way down to the hand.
The median nerve enters the hand through a canal-like structure called the carpal tunnel. Through the carpal tunnel also pass nine tendons of different muscles of the hands.
The function of this nerve is to provide sensation to the thumb, index, middle finger. It also provides sensation to half of the ring finger. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tunnel narrows, causing compression of the median nerve. This increases the pressure inside the canal, causing the nerve and tendons to swell. The result is a cut in the sensation of fingers and the hand.
Although this is a common condition, it is no easy task to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What are the risk factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Several risk factors result in a higher chance of developing CTS. These are additional to performing repetitive wrist activities and hyperextension. Some factors and health conditions related to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include:
- Family: Some families tend to have smaller carpal tunnels, resulting in CTS.
- Pregnancy: Because of fluid retention that can swell the median nerve.
- Wrist fracture of dislocation: And almost any wrist trauma can result in CTS.
- Hand or wrist deformity: This can also result in a smaller carpal tunnel and, therefore, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Hormonal diseases: Like diabetes and thyroid imbalances.
- Older age.
What are the symptoms?
Carpal tunnel symptoms will typically include sensitive symptoms. Among the most common symptoms, we find:
- Tingling and numbness: Patients will usually complain about their hands falling asleep and loss of grip. These symptoms are most commonly intermittent and can be related to specific activities involving hands. Patients can experience symptoms during the night, sometimes waking them up. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can affect both hands. However, symptoms are more severe in the dominant hand. Most patients will describe the improvement of the symptoms by shaking the hand or the wrist.
- Pain: Patients will frequently experience pain. Carpal Tunnel pain is usually described as an aching sensation in the anterior part of the wrist. This pain can radiate towards the palm, the fingers, or even to the forearm.
- Weakness: Sometimes, CTS can cause loss of hand strength, including grips that involve the thumb.
- Autonomic symptoms: These include inflammation feeling in the hands and temperature changes.
How do you prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
As of today, there are no proven strategies to prevent the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There are many activities that a person performs in their daily life that can cause CTS. With so many causes, it is difficult to prevent them all. Still, one of the most important aspects of preventing CTS is maintaining a healthy wrist position. This includes:
- Sleeping with wrists straight.
- Keeping wrists straight and a proper hand position while using tools.
- Avoid repetitive movements of flexion and extension of wrists.
- Taking breaks while performing repetitive motions: While doing this, you can stretch and bend your wrists. This acts as wrist rest, preventing CTS.
- Good posture: A bad posture while working or performing other activities can have many consequences on your health.
- Reduce force while doing activities with your hands: A more relaxed grip can prevent those repetitive activities that can damage your wrists.
How do you stop Carpal Tunnel from progressing?
For most patients, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome acts as a progressive condition. The way or speed at which CTS progresses depends on each patient’s individual case. There is no proven evidence on how you can stop carpal tunnel from progressing.
Medical treatment hasn’t been effective in preventing the progress of CTS. However, once you have the diagnosis of CTS, you should start avoiding the activities that can worsen carpal tunnel. This, in order to stop having uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with your daily activities.
What activities make the Carpal Tunnel worse?
Essentially, any activity that you perform with a hyperextended wrist can worsen CTS symptoms. Repetitive stress on the carpal tunnel can result in swelling and then compression of the median nerve. This stress on the carpal tunnel can be the result of:
- The position of your hands while performing activities: A poor posture of your wrists can affect the median nerve.
- Prolonged or repetitive exposure to vibrations: Like the ones produced by some hand tools or power tools.
- Basically, any activity requiring a hyperextended wrist: Like typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, or playing the piano.
- Jobs that require repetitive wrist movement: Like construction work and manufacturing.
Are push-ups bad for Carpal Tunnel?
Yes. Carpal Tunnel can be worsened by activities where the wrist is at hyperextension. While doing push-ups, your wrists are hyperextended. And not only that, they are hyperextended and support almost all of your body weight. This puts way too much pressure on your wrists and can result in increased pressure inside the carpal canal.
However, this doesn’t mean you should never do push-ups again. Just be careful; if you do them only a couple times a week, they shouldn’t be a problem. If you happen to already have a Carpal Tunnel Syndrome diagnosis, then you should avoid them. This in other to prevent more severe symptoms and nerve compression.
What is the outlook for Carpal Tunnel?
The outlook for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is actually pretty good. But, like any other condition, this depends on the case. For example, around 90% of patients with mild and moderate CTS will improve their symptoms with conservative therapy. This means that this group of patients will get better without needing surgery.
On the other side, even if you need surgery, more than 90% of patients have relief of their symptoms in the immediate time after surgery. Still, some studies show that 5 years after surgery, a group of patients will recur the symptoms.
What conditions can be mistaken for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Many conditions can cause symptoms similar to those caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is why a trained physician needs to establish the right diagnosis and decide the right treatment. Some common conditions that can be mistaken for CTS include:
- De Quervain’s tendinosis: A condition in which the tendons of the base of the thumb swell. This can cause pain with specific positions of the hand.
- Trigger finger: Soreness at the base of a finger that results in symptoms like pain, stiffness, and locking of said finger.
- Arthritis: swollen joints of the hand can cause pain and stiffness.
- Any condition that can affect nerves: Like multiple sclerosis and different kinds of polyneuropathies.
How is it diagnosed?
If you think you may be suffering from Carpal Tunnel, you should see your doctor. Like any other doctor visit, they will ask about your medical history and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
After that, doctors examine the patient looking for specific findings to orientate the diagnosis. For CTS, there are two tests doctors can perform during physical examination.
In the first test, the doctor will tap over the median nerve at the wrist. If this produces a tingling sensation in the fingers, the patient has CTS. There is also a wrist flexion test, also called the Phalen test. In this test, the patient will put the elbow on a table and will let the wrist fall freely. Patients with CTS will experience tingling and numbness in less than 60 seconds. These tests also help to know how severe is the condition. The quicker the symptoms appear, the more severe it is.
In terms of laboratory studies, they are not useful in diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome. Imaging studies, like a wrist X-ray, can be useful to out rule other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. This is often made when there is wrist pain with limited motion.
The best method to diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a study called electromyography. This study helps determine if the median nerve is really working as it should. Electromyography can also help determine how much nerve damage there is. In the event of nerve compression, the electromyography will show low conduction in the affected nerve.
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome treated?
Thankfully, there is treatment available for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Doctors nowadays can treat this condition through two approaches: non-surgical and surgical treatment. The approach your doctor decides will have to do with the severity of the disease.
In the non-surgical approach, we find the following techniques:
- Physical Therapy: With physical therapy, patients can improve risk factors for CTS like obesity and low aerobic fitness. Nevertheless, exercises with repetitive wrist strain should be avoided. Also, treatment modalities like ultrasound therapy have proven to be useful to provide short-term relief for patients.
- Occupational therapy: Wrist sprints that put the wrist joint in a neutral position have shown efficacy. A splint should be used for at least 3 to 4 weeks to show results. They are often considered the first option for treatment for their low cost and efficacy. Occupational therapists and doctors don’t recommend massages of the area.
- Medical treatment: Most mild-moderate cases of CTS will see improvement with conservative therapy. However, some patients may require medication. Injections of steroids in the carpal tunnel can result in long-term improvement for most patients. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful too. A specific group of patients can benefit from diuretic drugs only if they suffer from fluid retention.
Sadly, when patients don’t respond to conservative treatment, they should have carpal tunnel surgery. Doctors will also consider a surgical approach if the patient has severe CST. For this surgery, the surgeon will make a little incision in your wrist. During carpal tunnel surgery, doctors will focus on releasing the transverse carpal ligament. This will result in carpal tunnel release, decreasing pressure over the pinched nerve. This way, you won’t experience any more symptoms after surgery. This surgery has around 90% of the initial success rate.
How do you fix Carpal Tunnel?
The only way to definite “fix” carpal tunnel syndrome is through surgery. Although there are many non-surgical treatment options available, they will not entirely fix the problem.
Furthermore, as we mentioned before, even patients who undergo surgery can experience recurrence of the symptoms. This typically happens around 5 years after the surgery. In the immediate period after surgery, most patients will experience relief from all of the symptoms.
If you spend a long time with CTS symptoms, there is a chance that the median nerve has permanent damage. When a nerve is severely and permanently damaged, there is no way to fully fix it.
How do you know if your Carpal Tunnel is severe?
You can suspect you are suffering from severe CTS. First, a severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patient will experience more intense symptoms than in a mild case. Severe hand pain or wrist pain, persistent numbness, and tingling can be symptoms of severe CTS. Yet, the only one who can stage this condition is a doctor.
If your doctor suspects you are suffering from CTS, they will perform some tests and studies. One common test that doctors perform in CTS is electromyography. Through this study, doctors can see how much damage there is in a nerve, in this case, the median nerve. Electromyography is useful for both diagnosing and staging Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What happens if Carpal Tunnel goes untreated?
There are no deadly or life-threatening consequences of untreated Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but they can be permanent and severe. However, if left untreated, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can result in permanent nerve damage. This damage will have consequences and can lead to severe weakness, lack of coordination, and difficulty of movement. All of these manifestations will affect your daily routine and can produce a negative impact on your lifestyle.
Do you have symptoms of this disease?
This tool is a Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for the disease. Therefore, the tool would tell anybody who uses it the likelihood of their symptoms because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Using the tool is free and would only take you a few minutes.