Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder that causes pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. In general, carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the tissues around the median nerve of the hand swell and press on the nerve.
Work-Related Issues and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
These problems aregenerally associated results from work-related movements such as repetition and forceful use of the hands. They include the following:
- Hand-arm vibration syndrome — tingling and numbness that persist even after the vibration stops
- Cumulative trauma (repetitive stress) disorder
- Overuse syndromes
- Chronic upper limb pain syndrome
Who is at Risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Occupations involving heavy labor
Heavy labor workers who use their hands and wrists repetitively are at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly if they work in cold temperatures and have factors or medical conditions that make them susceptible to the condition.
Tips:Anyone who does repetitive tasks should begin with a short warm-up period, take frequent breaks, and avoid overexertion of the hand and finger muscles whenever possible. Employers should be urged to vary their employees’ tasks and work.
Computer users and typists
More than 10% of computer users complain of Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Repetitive typing and keyboarding or key entry has traditionally been associated with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. The risk for carpal tunnel syndrome in this group, however, is still much lower than it is in occupations involving heavy labor.
Tips:Poorly designed office furniture is a major contributor to bad posture. Chairs should be adjustable for height, with a supportive backrest. Custom-designed chairs, made for people who do not fit in standard chairs, can be expensive. However, these costs can save companies on the medical expenses that follow injuries related to bad posture.
Workers in the meat and fish packing industries
Other workers such as those in the meat and fish packing industries and those who assemble airplanes have the highest risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Meat packers complained of pain and loss of hand function as long ago as the 1860s. Even today, the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in the meat, poultry, and fish packing industries may be as high as 15%.
Tips:Altering the way a person performs repetitive activities and replacing old tools with ergonomically designed new ones may help prevent inflammation in the hand and wrist.
Musicians and Artists
Musicians and Artists are at very high risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and other problems related to the muscles and nerves in the hands, upper trunk, and neck. In one study, 20% of musicians reported carpal tunnel syndrome or other nerve disorders in the hands and wrists.
Tips:Hand and wrist exercises may help reduce the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Isometric and stretching exercises can strengthen the muscles in the wrists and hands, as well as in the neck and shoulders, improving blood flow to these areas.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually progress gradually over weeks and months, or sometimes years. Early in the disorder, the process is reversible. Over time, however, the insulation on the nerves may wear away, and permanent nerve damage may develop. These are symptoms related to carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Numbness or pain in your hand, forearm, or wrist.
- Occasional tingling, numbness, "pins-and-needles" sensation, or pain.
- Numbness or pain that gets worse while you are using your hand or wrist.
- Occasional aching pain in your forearm between your elbow and wrist.
- Stiffness in your fingers when you get up in the morning.
Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- A conservative approach to CTS, which may include corticosteroid injections and splinting, is the first step in treating this disorder.
- Surgery is usually an effective treatment choice for people with the more classic signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome who fail conservative treatment.