Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve of the hand, the nerve that connects the hand to the forearm. The median nerve is responsible for the sensation of the palm side of the thumb and fingers, with the exception of the pinkie finger. A narrow, rigid tunnel at the base of the hand comprised of ligament and bones accommodates the median nerve and tendons. Carpal tunnel syndrome results from compression of the median nerve within the tunnel.
What is the "Carpal Tunnel"?
As the tunnel itself is smaller in women than men, women are three times as likely to experience problems with carpel tunnel, as are their male counterparts. Often times, the symptoms develop in the dominant hand, and this is where the most severe pain tends to be experienced. Persons with diabetes or metabolic disorders, as these disorders affect the body’s nerves, are at a higher risk for carpel tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome, seldom seen in children is almost exclusively an adult injury.
Mechanical repetition is a common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, but isn’t the only reason. It is common for those working assembly lines in manufacturing, food processing, and data entry to suffer from this condition. In fact, workers in these industries have a tripled risk in the amount of occurrences over data-entry personnel, who have been the predominant sufferers of carpal tunnel.
Often, a sprain or wrist injury is enough to cause the swelling of the median nerve or persons that have a congenitally narrower carpal tunnel are likely to suffer from this problem.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are pain, numbness, or gradual weakness in the hand or wrist that radiates to the forearm. The onset of symptoms is gradual, from a tingling to a subtle numbness to a frequent burning or itching sensation usually from the thumb to the middle finger. A common complaint among patients suffering from carpaltunnel is feeling that their fingers are clumsy and swollen, though no actual swelling has occurred. Decreased grip strength is also common. As carpal tunnel goes untreated, the muscles at the base of the thumb deteriorate, sometimes beyond the point of repair.
Carpal Tunnel Treatment
The initial treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is generally a conservative regime, not a surgical intervention. For most mild cases, a doctor may prescribe over the counter pain relievers that help reduce swelling and advise the patient to use a wrist support brace. Treatment also includes the use of a wrist brace to immobilize the wrist for 2-3 weeks and cryotherapy to relieve pain and swelling.