Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome comes on slowly, but once it's fully present, it can be more than an annoyance. A common occurrence, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is compressed or pinched in the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is the space between the transverse carpal ligament and the carpal bones of the wrist and hand. The tingling and numbness that result in your hand and forearm can interfere with your everyday life.
While less common in children, be aware that carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by repetitive motions of the hand and wrist. If your child plays video games or a musical instrument, they are somewhat at risk. Carpal tunnel syndrome also has a genetic component – the size of the carpal tunnel is different for everyone and runs in families.
How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Starts
If you're starting to get regular tingling and numb feelings in your fingers and hands, you might be in the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. Most times, you don't even know you're developing the condition.
The numbness or tingling feeling often begins in your index finger or thumb, or both, and it may be accompanied by a somewhat uncomfortable feeling in your wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect one or both arms. Common activities that can lead to symptoms include:
- Computer work, such as typing and using a mouse.
- Playing a musical instrument.
- Using hand tools frequently, such as power drills or even hammers and screwdrivers.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
You can take steps to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. The important thing is to pay attention to the repetitive motions of your hands or wrists. Quick action when you first start to feel the symptoms can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from developing or getting worse.
- Before starting a repetitive task, make sure you allow time for frequent rest breaks. During the task, set a timer for every 15 minutes and:
- Stop what you're doing.
- Do simple hand exercises, such as stretching, wiggling your fingers or moving your wrists in circles.
- During the task, it's important to:
- Lighten your grip on the mouse, pen or guitar pick.
- Avoid forcing or straining.
- Try raising or lowering your chair, changing the position of your keyboard or how you hold your mouse.
Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are home treatments that help with carpal tunnel syndrome. Keeping your hands warm with fingerless gloves can help with pain and stiffness. Also, stretch your fingers, hands and wrists frequently when you're not doing repetitive tasks. Wearing a wrist brace overnight can help relieve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Take ibuprofen and aspirin to reduce inflammation and pain. Topical menthol can also help reduce pain. Sometimes doctors order cortisone injections at the wrist.
Another treatment option is carpal tunnel release surgery. This outpatient procedure involves cutting through the transverse carpal ligament, as it can apply painful pressure to the median nerve. Carpal release surgery is recommended for very severe cases and is typically very successful in alleviating symptoms.