As you sit at your computer reading this, ask yourself if you tend to sit typing for extended amounts of time. If you do, you could be at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful disorder of the wrist and hand. The carpal tunnel is the narrow area formed by the bones and tissues in your wrist (palm side) protecting the median nerve that feeds touch sensors in your fingers and hand.
Repetitive movements, such as typing can irritate and cause swelling of the tissues in your wrist and result in increased pressure the nerve. Carpal tunnel can also be exacerbated by other conditions such as arthritis, obesity, pregnancy, hypothyroidism, sarcoidosis, leukemia, and diabetes.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel include numbness or tingling in your hand and fingers, pain in the wrist, palm or forearm, more intense pain in wrist and fingers at night, pain increase with use, trouble gripping objects such as a doorknob or steering wheel of a car, and weakness in your thumb.
- How is carpal tunnel diagnosed? There are several doctor-lead methods for identifying carpal tunnel, such as tapping the front of the wrist to induce the tingling sensation (Tinel’s sign), bending the wrist forward (Phalen’s maneuver), and examining the neck, shoulder, elbow, pulses, and reflexes to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may also perform a nerve conduction velocity test to measure the rate of speed electrical impulses travel through the carpal tunnel. Or your doctor may order a blood test (complete blood count, thyroid hormone level, blood sugar, etc.) to search for underlying conditions that may be causing your carpal tunnel.
- How do I know if what I’m feeling could be carpal tunnel? If you are experiencing symptoms, contact your doctor. According to familydoctor.org, women and people related to someone with carpal tunnel are most at risk for developing the disorder, and especially if they use computers, or are carpenters, grocery checkers, assembly line workers, meat packers, musicians, and mechanics. Those also at risk are people with hobbies such as gardening, needlework, golfing and canoeing.
- How is carpal tunnel treated? You doctor may suggest you see a specialist (rheumatologist) for proper diagnosis and treatment, unless your doctor is skilled in dealing with carpal tunnel. The treatment for carpal tunnel generally depends on the severity of the case. Some cases may call for non-surgical methods such as splinting, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and treating with ice. Surgery, when needed, could be performed either using an endoscope, or a more invasive open-wrist method.
- What is the long term risk? If carpal tunnel is not treated, it could cause further tendon and muscle damage limiting the use of your wrists and hands over time.
- What information should I share with my doctor if I suspect carpal tunnel? It is important to keep track of symptoms, medications and supplements, what seems to help or worsen your condition, personal and family medical history, and share it with your doctor.
- Is there a cure for carpal tunnel? Many treated for carpal tunnel may experience relief from symptoms. Some though may continue to have progression of the condition, especially when it is being aggravated by another condition.
- How can I reduce my risk of developing carpal tunnel? Always use good ergonomic posture when typing at the computer. You may decide to wear wrist support to help alleviate pressure, and stop to exercise the hands regularly to avoid overuse.
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? Your doctors can suggest their favorite web sites for obtaining more information and helping you cope with carpal tunnel.
www.mayoclinic.com Carpal tunnel
www.familydoctor.org Carpal tunnel
www.medicinenet.com Carpal tunnel
Do you have a question about carpal tunnel? Check out EmpowHER’s carpal tunnel page. Sign-up, post a question, share your story, connect with other women in our community and feel EmpowHERed!