Though carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable, this painful condition is not to be taken lightly. It causes numbness, tingling, weakness, and general discomfort in the hands, wrists, and arms. And affects around three to six percent of the U.S. adult population, according to American Family Physician. Because the question of how to treat carpal tunnel syndrome depends on a variety of factors, it's wise for you to become familiar with prevention techniques and treatment options.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when bones and ligaments rub against or pinch the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. This results in nerve inflammation and causes pain and swelling in the hand, including the middle and index fingers and thumb, and the wrist. The pain can also extend up the arm and sometimes to the shoulder. If left unchecked, permanent nerve damage may restrict hand movement and use.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins in the dominant hand, and the NIH reports that women are three times more likely than men to develop it. People with diabetes are also more prone to having carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common cause is simply having a small carpal tunnel, but carpal tunnel syndrome can also occur because of trauma, stress from overuse, rheumatoid arthritis, an overactive pituitary gland, or hypothyroidism.
Prevention and Detection
The best way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome is minimizing stress on your hands and wrists. Reduce your force and grip in everyday actions, take frequent breaks from desk work, and lightly stretch or bend your hands and wrists throughout the day. The NIH also recommends wearing fingerless gloves to keep hands warm and doing yoga to improve grip strength.
Recognizing the condition's early signs is another important factor. If you experience a tingling, burning sensation in your hand or fingers, feel pain at night or when you wake up, have a weakened grip, or have trouble making a fist, you should seek medical care, according to NIH. A doctor will make a diagnosis based on strength tests or electrodiagnostic tests such as electromyography, ultrasound, or MRI.
How to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Treatments depend on the severity of your case. For less dramatic cases, anti-inflammatory medicine may suffice. More aggressive drug treatments involve diuretics, steroids, or analgesics. Another option is physical therapy, which teaches stretching and strengthening exercises.
If symptoms last for six months, surgery is an option. The majority of surgery patients recover fully after several months, though some may experience wrist weakness. Patients rarely suffer a recurrence.
If you suspect you may have or are developing carpal tunnel syndrome, speak with your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier its is diagnosed, the better chance you have of making a full recovery.