Carpal tunnel syndrome – often referred to as “CTS”, for short – is a relatively common neurological-based disorder. It develops when the median nerve becomes pressed down or becomes squeezed. Compression and/or pressure within the carpal tunnel cause the condition to develop. The median nerve is responsible for providing sensory-based and motor-based functionality to the thumb and the 3 middle fingers of the hand.
What is the Carpal Tunnel?
The carpal tunnel is a passageway that runs from the wrist into the hand. It is composed of ligaments, tendons, and bones. The median nerve that we previously mentioned goes through the tunnel. It provides sensation to the thumb, the index finger, the middle finger, and some of the ring finger. The carpal tunnel is approximately one inch in width.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
In many instances, there is no specific cause behind the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Medical professionals have established that the following may contribute to the development of the issue:
- Frequent and repetitive movements that require grasping – such as those that occur when playing sports
- Frequent and repetitive movements that are small in nature and involve the hands – such as typing
- Changes that occur with the blood sugar levels
- Diseases that impact the joints and/or the bone – such as arthritis
- Metabolic changes in the body
- Hormonal fluctuations with the body
- Medical conditions or injuries that directly impact the wrist
- Genetic inclination due to a family history of the condition
- The presence of tumors
- The presence of ganglion cysts
- Prolonged activities – such as reading, bending the wrist while sleeping, or holding a fist for a long time
- Exposure to vibration
- Being female
- Being older
- Addiction to alcohol
- Fluid retention
What Symptoms are Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are many symptoms that may be associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. The following outlines the most commonly experienced by sufferers:
- Experiencing weakness when attempting to grip objects
- “Pins and Needles” sensations in the fingers
- Pain in the hand
- Hand numbness
- The fingers may feel as if they are swollen
- The fingers controlled by the median nerve may start to tingle or burn
- Discomfort at night that interferes with the sleep cycle
- Weakness when pinching
- Dropping objects when attempting to grasp or hold
- Discomfort when engaging in activities that use the fingers and/or hand
- Having to shake the hand to alleviate numbness and/or tingling sensations
- There may be an electric shock sensation experienced in the fingers
- When driving, reading, or sleeping, an electric shock sensation may be experienced from the hand, through the arm, and even up to the shoulder and beyond
- Pain, numbness, and tingling from the wrist up to the shoulder
- Complications with fine movements – such as buttoning apparel pieces
- The development of a condition called “proprioception” when one loses awareness of where the hand is located
- Waking up frequently throughout the night due to discomfort
What are the Risk Factors for the Development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There are several different risk factors that have been associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. For some, just one results in the condition. For others, more than one risk factor may play a role in developing the condition. The following outlines the most common risk factors:
- Anatomical Complication – If there is an injury or medical condition that occurs in or around the wrist, it could result in the development of pressure or compression of the median nerve.
- Small Carpal Tunnel – Many individuals have a small carpal tunnel and this is more likely to result in compression of the median nerve.
- Gender – Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common among females than males. Many believe that this is because of the fact that the wrists of women are often much smaller than that of the wrists of men.
- Obesity – This is a risk factor because of the increased accumulation of fluid in the obsess in the tissue-based spaces of the carpal tunnel.
- Medications – If an individual is on the breast cancer drug called “Arimidex”, they may be susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Nerve Damage – If a person has a medical condition that is known to damage the nerves – such as diabetes – damage to the median nerve may occur.
- Inflammation – Conditions that result in inflammation are a risk factor for causing pressure on the median nerve.
- Fluid Retention – Any type of fluid retention – such as that with pregnancy – could result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Medical Conditions – There are many medical conditions that could result in the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Examples include thyroid problems, menopause, and lymphedema.
- Workplace Conditions – Workplace conditions such as exposure to vibrations, repetitive movements, and prolonged flexing could create pressure directly on the median nerve and cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are many steps that may help reduce the stress on the carpal tunnel in the wrist. These include the following:
- If you perform repetitive movements with the fingers or the hand, place an emphasis on reducing the force or the grip that you have.
- Take regular breaks where you stretch the hands and flex the wrists. Do not bend the wrist at max up or max down. If you use a keyboard, keep it at approximately the height of your elbow.
- Ensure that you practice proper posture.
- If you work in an environment that is cold, keep the hands warm. If nothing else, gloves that are fingerless will help you.
- If you use a desk, may sure it is at a height and a size that does not result in wrist compression.
If caught early, carpal tunnel syndrome may be slowed in its progression. There are surgical and non-surgical treatments available.
The surgical treatments include a carpal tunnel release that is either open or endoscopic.
Non-surgical treatments include wearing a brace, taking anti-inflammatory medications, changing activities that led to or irritate the condition, nerve gliding exercises, and/or cortisone injections. One of the most promising treatments is physical therapy.
How Does Physical Therapy Help Patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Physical therapy has the ability to relieve pain, and alleviate tingling and numbness. In many instances, the exercises encouraged in PT helps to restore the use of the hand, wrist, and the arm and sometimes shoulder without having to resort to surgical treatment. Physical therapists focus on movements. In fact, they are the ultimate experts. The quality of life is improved through the direct care that is hands-on, educating you about the condition and the movements necessary to improve the symptoms, and a prescribed movement regimen.
The following may be used during physical therapy for those that suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Cold and Heat Treatments
- Education on wrist positions, posture, and stretching
- Stretching Exercises
- Exercises that strengthen the hand, wrist, and forearm
- Introduction to splinting
Surgery and Physical Therapy
If you require surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, a physical therapist is capable of assisting you during the recovery process. This treatment will help reduce the possibility of scar tissue from forming. It will also help in restoring the strength of the wrist and teaching healthy habits to reduce compression and pressure on the median nerve.
Contact Us Today
If you want to reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and be able to engage in normal activities, we here at Back to Motion Physical Therapy can assist you. We know how to get you to the point where symptoms are minimal – if at all – and you are able to be as active and as completely functional as possible. For more information, contact us today by calling the following number: 303-832-5577