What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpus, derived from the Greek word karpos, means “wrist”. The wrist is surrounded by a band of fibrous tissue that normally functions as a support for the joint. The tight space between this fibrous band and the wrist bone is called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel to receive sensations from the thumb, index, and middle fingers of the hand. Any condition that causes swelling or a change in position of the tissue within the carpal tunnel can squeeze and irritate the median nerve. Irritation of the median nerve in this manner causes tingling and numbness of the thumb, index, and the middle fingers, inducing a condition commonly referred to as “carpal tunnel syndrome” (CTS).
Does Type of Work Increase Risk of CTS?
If you feel that certain work activities are causing finger, hand, or wrist numbness or pain, work out alternative ways of doing the tasks at hand, maybe change equipment, position or ergonomics of your work space and procedures. People using vibratory power tools for prolonged periods are more at risk than people with desk jobs. For activities at home or related to your favorite hobby, identify if there are situations that require constant and repeated hand, finger or wrist movements. Try to take breaks, change patterns, positions and frequencies to allow recovery time and relaxation of muscles and tendons.
Health Conditions that increases risk for CTS:
- Any health conditions that can cause pain, swelling in the joints and soft tissues, or reduce the blood flow to the hands, augment the risks of CTS greatly. People suffering from inflammatory disorders like obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, hypothyroidism, and multiple sclerosis are considered high risk patients for contracting CTS.
- Hand and wrist movements and activities that require repeated motions, especially in awkward positions.
- Smoking. It may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome by affecting the blood flow to the median nerve.
- Broken wrist bones, dislocated bones, new bone growth from healing bones, or bone spurs. These can take up space in the carpal tunnel and put more pressure on the median nerve.
- Tumors and other growths (such as ganglions). These uncommon causes of carpal tunnel syndrome are usually benign.
- Normal wear and tear of the tissues in the hand and wrist caused by aging.
The Harvard Medical School recommends some precautionary tips to avoid CTS:
- When working on a keyboard or with a mouse, keep your wrists in a neutral position, rather than flexed downward or extended upward.
- Take a break from computer work and stretch every hour. Between these breaks, take shorter breaks to rest your hands, either palms up on your lap or on a wrist rest.
- Keep all items you may need access to – documents, telephone, keyboard, mouse and supplies – no more than 16-18 inches away to avoid awkward postures or reaching.
- Consider setting your keyboard on an adjustable tray that allows your forearms to remain parallel to the floor, with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Wrists should form a straight line with your forearms.
- Keep your mouse close to the keyboard and at the same height. A padded wrist rest may help reduce strain.
Check this visual descriptive analysis of what causes CTS: