According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, carpal tunnel syndrome afflicts approximately 8 million Americans per year. It is second only to back surgery in the number of musculoskeletal surgeries performed each year. Yet, few people really know what this syndrome is.
The word “carpal” comes from the Greek word “karpos,” meaning “wrist.” There is a small space between the wrist joint and its surrounding fibrous tissues, which is called the “carpal tunnel.” It is through this tunnel that a median nerve receives all of its sensations of the fingers. When this median nerve is irritated, the result is carpal tunnel syndrome.
The symptoms of this syndrome include pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers or hands, particularly the thumb, index, middle, or ring fingers. Loss of sensation in the fingers and weakness in the hands can also occur.
The Obvious and Unusual Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is usually caused by repetitive finger and hand use (especially with improper positioning). Such repetitive movements of the fingers and hands can cause the median nerve to become compressed and irritated as it passes through the carpal tunnel.
But there is another way that carpal tunnel can develop-through disease. Many diseases such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and sarcoidosis can also lead to this condition. These diseases cause substances to be deposited around the median nerve, thus causing the irritating pain, tingling, and numbness of the hands associated with CTS.
There are several factors involved in developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These include:
1. Pre-existing conditions- the diagnosis of another illness in which symptoms include lack of blood flow to the hands, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypothyroidism.
3. Smoking – which decreases blood flow to the median nerve wrist brace for tendonitis.
4. Gender – women who are pregnant, taking birth control pills, taking hormone replacements, or going through menopause are sometimes known to develop CTS.
5. Age – people in the age range of 40 to 60 years old are more affected than any other age group.
Treatment During the Early Stages
As with any disease, it is the patient’s choice as far as treatment is concerned. The severity of the symptoms should also be taken into consideration when deciding upon a treatment plan.
In the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, physical therapy, heat and massage treatments, and sometimes just simply shaking or stretching the hands can reduce or eliminate the uncomfortable sensations. Taking the supplement vitamin B6, has also been known to alleviate symptoms.
If these do not diminish symptoms, a doctor will often recommend that a splint be worn at night, and even during the day to reduce inflammation and stabilize the wrist. Steroid drugs such as cortisone are also an option and can last up to six months. The steroid helps shrink the swollen area around the median nerve, thus alleviating pressure and pain. A new and less painful way of injecting the steroid drug into the carpal tunnel is through an electric current, known as iontophresis.