Light at the end of the tunnel…

Do you go through each day frustrated by pain, tingling, or numbness in your hand and wrist? Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and it’s stopping you from doing your daily tasks and meaningful activities.

This article will hopefully give you some light at the end of the tunnel… the carpal tunnel… anyway you get the idea.

 

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

As you can see in the diagram, the carpal tunnel is a passage formed by the wrist bones (carpals) and the transverse carpal ligament. The tunnel allows the structures inside to move as we bend and extend our wrists. One of these structures is the median nerve. This nerve provides sensation in the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers. The median nerve also controls the muscles around the bottom of the thumb. Since the carpal tunnel is made up of bones and stiff connective tissue, it is quite rigid and isn’t able to expand. This means that if there is any swelling within the carpal tunnel, the median nerve can be compressed, causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome can present in different ways, but the symptoms usually come on gradually and often include:

  • Numbness, pain and tingling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.
  • Pain that travels up the forearm
  • Shock like sensations in the hand and fingers
  • Reduced coordination and strength in the hand

Commonly, these symptoms first present during the night, awakening the person from their slumber. Eventually, symptoms become apparent during the day, especially with activities that involve gripping of the hand or holding the wrist in a bent position, such as talking on the phone or reading a book.

 

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Like many conditions, there are usually multiple factors that cause carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Hand or wrist injuries - sprains or fractures can cause swelling which can contribute to the compression of the nerve.
  • Heredity - a person’s genes can make them more susceptible.
  • Repetitive hand use - jobs that require the repetitive use of the hands and wrist can load the flexor tendons beyond their capacity, causing swelling the carpal tunnel.
  • Pregnancy - hormonal changes can increase the risk
  • Other conditions - people with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid issues are more at risk
  • Women are at a much greater risk than men.

Most of these factors are biological or relating to the physical structures, but like other painful conditions, it’s important to not neglect the role that psychosocial factors may play. For example, sleep deprivation, high-stress levels, and mental health conditions can worsen someone’s experience of carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

The light at the end of the tunnel… How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

Thankfully, our body’s are magnificent healers, and there are lots of non-surgical approaches to treat carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Splinting - wearing a splint at night or during aggravating activities can reduce the movements that might be irritating the carpal tunnel and putting pressure on the median nerve.
  • Activity modifications - limiting the activities that increase symptoms gives the structure a chance to settle down which can reduce swelling. Once the symptoms have settled, you can slowly reintroduce some of these movements.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications - your doctor may prescribe these to help you manage the symptoms in the short term.

Although the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can make it difficult, it’s important to keep active during your rehabilitation. Keeping active is incredibly beneficial for your health and fitness. So it’s a good idea to keep up all your cardiovascular exercise such as walking and swimming. Some resistance training exercises may need to be modified (or substituted) to make them manageable. If you need help with getting into a routine of resistance training or working around your symptoms, make sure you check out 8 Week At-Home Fit and Strong Program, where you can get direct access to our physios who can help you modify your exercise!

So in summary, carpal tunnel syndrome is usually the result of several factors that can compress the median nerve in the wrist. Whilst it can be quite debilitating, treatment can be quite effective, and you CAN keep exercising! Try to remind yourself -  there is light at the end of the tunnel...


Reference:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Symptoms and Treatment - OrthoInfo - AAOS. (2021). Retrieved 1 October 2021, from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2021). Retrieved 1 October 2021, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet

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