People who regularly make use of personal computers, work at manufacturing or assembly jobs, or even take part in athletic events or perform with musical instruments, might go through stress injuries that are considered repetitive by nature. One of the most widespread types of repetitive stress injuries would be carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most expensive of all work-related injuries. Over his or her lifetime, a carpal tunnel patient loses about $30,000 in medical bills and time absent from work.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the name for a group of problems that includes swelling, pain, tingling, and loss of strength in your wrist and hand. Your wrist is made of small bones that form a narrow groove or carpal tunnel. Tendons and a nerve called the median nerve must pass through this tunnel from your forearm into your hand. The median nerve controls the feelings and sensations in the palm side of your thumb and fingers. Sometimes swelling and irritation of the tendons can put pressure on the wrist nerve causing the symptoms of CTS. A person’s dominant hand is the one that is usually affected. However, nearly half of CTS sufferers have symptoms in both hands.
CTS has become more common in the U.S. and is quite costly in terms of time lost from work and expensive medical treatment. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that in 2003 the average number of missed days of work due to CTS was 23 days, costing over $2 billion a year. It is thought that about 3.7 percent of the general public in this country suffer from CTS.
What Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Feel Like?
One of the first symptoms of CTS is gradual tingling and numbness in the areas supplied by the median nerve. This is typically followed by dull, vague pain where the nerve gives sensation in the hand. The hand may begin to feel like it’s asleep, especially in the early morning hours after a night’s rest. Sometimes pain may even spread up the arm to the shoulder. If the condition progresses, the thenar muscles of the thumb can weaken, causing the hand to be clumsy when picking up a glass or cup. If the pressure keeps building in the carpal tunnel, the thenar muscles may begin to shrink. Touching the pad of the thumb to the tips of the other fingers becomes difficult, making it hard to grasp items such as a steering wheel, newspaper, or telephone.
Women are three times more likely to have CTS than men. Although there is limited research on why this is the case, scientists have several ideas. It may be that the wrist bones are naturally smaller in most women, creating a tighter space through which the nerves and tendons must pass. Other researchers are looking at genetic links that make it more likely for women to have musculoskeletal injuries such as CTS. Women also deal with strong hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause that make them more likely to suffer from CTS. Generally, women are at higher risk of CTS between the ages of 45 and 54. Then, the risk increases for both men and women as they age.
Where Do I Get Help for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Georgia Clinic of Chiropractic (Augusta, GA) has had great success in treating CTS, and chiropractic should be considered first, before more aggresive and costlier treatments, such as drugs or surgery. CTS should be diagnosed and treated early. A standard physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if your symptoms are related to daily activities or to an underlying disorder. CTS-like symptoms may not be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at all, but pressure from the neck or shoulder area. In the neck there are a group of nerves that branch out into the arms, hands and fingers. If there is pressure on any of these nerves, especially the median nerve, the result may be CTS or CTS symptoms.
The Georgia Clinic of Chiropractic Blog is written by Dr. Mark Huntsman.