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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Short Guide on Causes and Treatments

July 22, 2011

We often think of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) as a recent medical phenomenon, a condition that arrived with the computers.

But it’s not.

CTS, a condition where pressure is put on the nerve in the wrist that supplies feeling and movement to parts of the hand, came to the attention of the medical world shortly after World War II…

But even in the middle of the 19th Century CTS was described in surgical literature. Sir James Paget in 1854 was the first person to report compression on this nerve. It wasn’t until 1939 that the term “carpal tunnel syndrome” was used.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

When someone suffers from CTS, their median nerve is pinched or compressed so that feeling does not flow into the hand. That nerve is responsible for the feeling and movement in the thumb side of your hand–your palm, thumb, index, middle and thumb side of the ring finger.

What causes CTS? The median nerve enters your wrist through the carpal tunnel. Because this tube is narrow, just a little swelling can pinch it and cause numbness, tingling, pain or weakness. When this occurs, you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

The people who are most prone to CTS are those who repeat the same movement of the hand and wrist over and over. Typing on a keyboard (it doesn’t matter if it’s a typewriter or laptop) is the most common cause of CTS.

Other activities that cause CTS are:

  • Sewing
  • Driving
  • Assembly work
  • Writing
  • Using hand tools or tools that vibrate, like a jackhammer
  • Playing racquet sports like tennis or squash
  • Painting
  • Playing a musical instrument

Other symptoms of CTS may include pain in the hands or wrists and loss of grip strength. Sometimes these symptoms are also a sign of arthritis.

How to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Try wearing a splint at night for several weeks. If that doesn’t work, try wearing it during the day. Try to avoid sleeping on your wrists and use hot and cold compresses.

A natural way to reduce the pain associated with CTS is to make changes at how you work or do certain activities.

There are variety of products on the market that help reduce CTS pain: specially designed keyboards and mouses.

It also helps to have someone evaluate the way you are performing your activities. Arranging your keyboard so your wrists aren’t pointed upward while typing is a common fix.

Ask your doctor to suggest an occupational therapist.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

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