Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most expensive of all work-related injuries. Over a lifetime, a carpal tunnel patient loses about $30,000 in medical bills and time absent from work.
CTS typically occurs in adults, with women 3 times more likely to develop it than men. The dominant hand is usually affected first, and the pain is typically severe. CTS is especially common in assembly-line workers in manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, meatpacking, and similar industries, as well as pregnant women. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, and according to recent research, people who perform data entry at a computer (up to 7 hours a day) are not at increased risk of developing CTS.
CTS is a problem involving the median nerve, which originates in the cervical spine and runs from the forearm into the hand. CTS occurs when the median nerve gets compressed somewhere in the body. It is commonly thought that the nerve only gets trapped at the carpal ligament—a narrow tunnel at the wrist—made up of bones and soft tissues, such as nerves, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels, but the nerve can also become interfered upon in the neck, elbow, or forearm. That is the reason why all carpal tunnel surgeries don’t work. The compression may result in pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand and wrist, which radiates up into the forearm. CTS is the most common of the “entrapment neuropathies”—compression or trauma of the body’s nerves in the extremities.
What Are the Symptoms?
Burning, tingling, itching, and/or numbness in the palm of the hand and thumb, index, and middle fingers are most common. Some people with CTS say that their fingers feel useless and swollen, even though little or no swelling is apparent. Since many people sleep with flexed wrists, the symptoms often first appear while sleeping. As symptoms worsen, they may feel tingling during the day. In addition, weakened grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist or grasp small objects. Some people develop wasting of the muscles at the base of the thumb. Some are unable to distinguish hot from cold by touch.
Why Does CTS Develop?
Some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others, which makes the median nerve compression more likely. In others, CTS can develop because of an injury to the wrist that causes swelling, over-activity of the pituitary gland, hypothyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, mechanical problems in the wrist joint, poor work ergonomics, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, and fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause.
How Is It Diagnosed?
CTS should be diagnosed and treated early. A Chiropractic examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if your symptoms are related to daily activities or to an underlying structural disorder. Doctors of Chiropractic are able to use other specific tests to try to reproduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Is the Approach for CTS?
Initial therapy includes:
- Specific Chiropractic adjustments of any involved areas of the spine and extremities where there is nerve pressure, stretching and strengthening exercises, and soft-tissue mobilization techniques,
- Resting the affected hand and wrist
- Avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms
- Immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending
- Applying cool packs to help reduce swelling from inflammations
Scientists are also investigating other therapies, such as acupuncture, that may help prevent and treat this disorder.
Upon resolution, proper posture and movement as instructed by your doctor of chiropractic can help prevent CTS recurrences.
For the majority of carpal tunnel cases that come into our clinic, there has either been a significant overall improvement or it has completely solved the problem. If you or someone you know is suffering from CTS, feel free to email us or call us at (613) 726-8830 for a complimentary consultation and to set up a time to have your spine and nervous system checked.
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