What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?
Your carpal tunnel is a narrow passage made from ligament and bones that contains tendons and your median nerve. Your median nerve runs from your forearm through your wrist to the palm of your hand and controls your hand’s sensation and movement. If the tendons become swollen or thickened your carpal tunnel narrows and your median nerve becomes compressed.
This nerve entrapment can cause numbness, weakness, and sometimes hand, wrist and arm pain.
Who is more at risk?
Often it isn't known why the median nerve has become compressed. There are some risk factors for CTS. These include: having a family history of CTS, pregnancy, health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, wrist injury, being female, and performing repetitive and strenuous work with your hand.
How to prevent CTS
Unfortunately, there are no proven strategies to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but If you have one or more risk factors, it’s useful to understand the measures you can take to minimize stress on your hands and wrist, and reduce your chances of acquiring the condition.
- Reduce your force, relax your grip
Often people use more force than is needed to perform small tasks. For example, if your work involves typing then hit the keys softly. If you write a lot, then choose a big pen with a soft grip adapter and free flowing ink and apply only light pressure to the paper.
- Take frequent breaks and perform simple exercises
If you are working on repetitive wrist motions you should periodically, for example every hour, take a break. It’s also worth alternating repetitive tasks if possible and rotating them with colleagues if possible. If you use vibrating equipment or perform tasks that require a lot of force, it’s particularly important to rest and alternate to prevent CTS.
Performing simple hand, wrist and finger exercises for four to five minutes every hour may be helpful in preventing CTS. This will help relax and also strengthen the muscles in your wrists and hands and improve blood flow to these areas.
You can try gently stretching and shaking exercises for your hand, wrist and fingers including: wrist bends (forward and back), wrist lifts, wrist flexes, finger bends, wrist stretches with weights, and hand squeezes.
- Watch your form and posture
Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. Keeping your wrist in a relaxed middle position is best.
You should also take care when positioning your keyboard and keep it at elbow height or slightly lower.
Posture is a very important and if incorrect it can cause your shoulders to slump which aggravates your neck and shoulder muscles, and may causes problems in your arms, hands and wrists. Proper posture and exercise programs designed to strengthen fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck may help prevent CTS.
- Keep your hands warm
A cold environment is always associated with stiff joints. Your hands are more likely to develop pain and stiffness in cold temperatures. Try fingerless gloves if you can’t control the temperature as these will keep your hands and wrists warm but allow you to work effectively and flexibly.
- Change your equipment
Workstations, tools and tasks can be redesigned to allow you to maintain a natural wrist position whilst working.
An ergonomic keyboard is ideal for maintaining a more natural position for your hands. A new computer mouse that is well positioned and not causing strain on your wrist may be beneficial too. You may also try moving your mouse to the other side and using your less dominant hand. Eventually you’ll get used to using your other hand and it’s an excellent preventative measure.
Treatment options if you develop CTS
If you do develop CTS, then you should see your doctor for advice. Early treatment can prevent permanent damage to your median nerve. Your treatment will be based on the severity of your syndrome. You may be recommended:
- To use wrist splints. They can help prevent the symptoms of CTS occurring at night or those that are brought on by particular activities.
- A steroid injection into your carpal tunnel. This will reduce inflammation around your nerve and reduce symptoms of CTS for weeks or months.
- Carpal tunnel release surgery - a frequently performed day case procedure under local anaesthetic that involves cutting your carpal ligament to relieve the pressure on your median nerve and usually cures CTS.
Diagnosis and treatment of CTS at New Hall Hospital
New Hall Hospital's experienced chartered physiotherapists and specialist hand surgeons offer convenient appointments for advice, diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. They can provide all treatment options and will tailor your care based on your individual requirements.
Call New Hall Hospital on 01722 422333 or use the online contact form to make an appointment.