Do I Have Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of those things that seems to afflict everyone as they age. However, there’s a big difference between chronic cramps in the hands and wrist from poor ergonomics and actual carpal tunnel. This syndrome only happens when inflammation impacts tissue, ultimately effecting a nerve that spans from the fingers to the forearm. The name comes from the “tunnel-esque” bones in the wrist.
Only a doctor can diagnose Carpal tunnel syndrome, but there are a few warning signs to watch out for. Most sufferers engaged in repetitive hand usage for several years. However, age, hormones, medical conditions and heredity also play a role. There are certainly people who spend hours typing each day for years who never develop it—as well as people who rarely use their hands repetitively who develop it at a young age.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common symptom of Carpal tunnel is tingling, pain or numbness in the hand, particularly on the thumb side. You may also experience a feeling like being shocked—but that’s a false sensation most often experienced near the thumb.
Some Carpal tunnel sufferers also report a radiating pain that can spread all the way up to the shoulder. In the most severe of cases, muscles at the thumb’s base can visually appear distorted. However, this often happens only after several years of not treating early stage Carpal tunnel.
What Can Be Done?
The good news is that it may be possible to prevent Carpal tunnel, starting with good ergonomics. Take regular breaks from typing or other repetitive hand motions. Set up your work station so that your wrist rests at a natural angle. If typing is your primary repetitive task, make sure you know how to type properly on a QWERTY keyboard, and take classes if you’re self-taught (the vast majority of self-taught typists didn’t learn proper movements).
The influx of speech to text programs can also be a great help. Experiment with different apps or software programs and see if you can give your hands a break. If you do notice any cramping or pain in the hands, wrist or forearms, see your doctor right away. Your healthcare team can work with you to find solutions, including coming up with hand exercises you can do at your desk.
When it’s Too Late…
Pretty certain you’ve got Carpal tunnel? it;s time to see a specialist. There are many options to address the symptoms and maybe even the root cause. Changing your repetitive patterns can be a great help, as can hand strengthening exercises. In severe cases, hand surgery may be recommended to address nerve damage. However, this is usually only recommended in cases where every other approach has failed and the patient still experiences chronic pain.
Carpal tunnel varies greatly in degrees of pain and mobility. The earlier it’s caught, the easier it is to avoid or address. In the digital era, it will only become more common as people rely on their hands for communication. Take care of your entire body and it’ll return the favor.
Sara Thompson has published numerous articles on health and lifestyle topics. This article was written in partnership with Dr. Todd Kuether, a brain and spine surgeon in Portland, Oregon. Visit kuetherbrainandspine.com.