Causes of and Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Heat should not be applied in the affected area, since this only makes the condition worse.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to symptoms like pins and needles and tenderness in our hands or wrists, and a feeling of weakness in the region. You may not be able to grip or grasp objects properly. But what exactly are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, and is there a treatment?
The simple truth is, there’s no cure for this condition, all you can do is treat the symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be disabling, because it stops people from using their hands, and the pain can become unbearable.
In many cases, people turn to surgery to try to relieve the condition. But what about natural remedies or medicines?
Of course, conventional medicine recommends surgery. It’s not so different than having a mechanic replace an old part in your car. But you’ve probably heard stories of mechanics who change parts that don’t really need changing so they can charge you for it. Unfortunately, the medical system sometimes treats people the same way.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist. Certain actions can cause it to become even narrower, compressing the median nerve and stopping it from working efficiently.
Compression of the median nerve also causes changes in your hands. You might experience numbness and stop being able to move your hand normally. Pins and needles, tingling, or sudden nerve pain are also common symptoms. Lastly, you may be weak here and not be able to pick up grasp objects with your thumb and index finger.
This happens because the hand muscles controlled by your median nerve no longer receive the impulses they need to function properly. Over time, this situation can cause permanent muscle damage and you could significantly lose strength in our hands.
Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome
As mentioned above, the wrist area the nerve passes through is called the carpal tunnel. It’s narrow and any inflammation or thickening in this tunnel can compress or push on the nerve. When this happens, it causes pain, numbness, pins and needles and/or weakness–all symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is most common in people between 30-60 years old, and women are more likely to get it. It isn’t a super common condition, and most people with it already have narrower carpal tunnels.
One theory is that continually making the same hand and wrist motions is what causes carpal tunnel syndrome. That might not be true, but it’s still a good idea to avoid making mechanical, repetitive movements. Also, using manual tools that vibrate can cause it. For example, workers that use pneumatic drills to break up road surfaces are at risk.
Some studies that suggest, as potential causes for carpal tunnel syndrome : using a computer and mouse, performing repetitive movements at work, playing instruments, and practicing certain sports.
Other factors that may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Repeatedly fracturing the wrist, or arthritis in the wrist
- A growth in the wrist, like a cyst or tumor
- Rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease which affects the joints)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Obesity and alcoholism
- Liquid retention during pregnancy and menopause
Carpal tunnel syndrome is idiopathic, which means we still aren’t 100% sure what causes it. This means treatment usually revolves around minimizing symptoms, rather than curing the problem.
- The inability to grasp objects with the thumb and index finger or hold things firmly with the hand
- Numbness or tingling in your thumbs and all the fingers except the pinky
- Tingling or pins and needles in the palm of the hand
- Difficulty carrying bags
- Pain that travels from the wrist to the elbow
- Pain in the hands and wrists
- Problems with motor function in the fingers
- Weakness in one or both hands
- Muscle atrophy at the base of the thumb (in advanced and chronic cases)
When to consult your physician
It’s important not to confuse the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome with the symptoms of arthritis (osteoarthritis). Talk to your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- Constant pain which increases, even though you stretch out the wrists to try and relieve the pain.
- Cracking sounds inside the wrist when we move the wrist in some way or perform a certain exercise.
Once we know that we don´t have arthritis, we can choose from a range of treatments, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Tests and examinations
The doctor may perform the “Phalen maneuver” and “Tinel’s sign”
- Tinel’s sign: lightly tapping on the median nerve at the wrist, which will result in distal tingling or pins and needles.
- The Phalen maneuver: flexing the wrist for 60 seconds to see if there is any numbness, tingling or weakness.
The most common examinations include:
- Wrist x-rays, which your doctor will use to figure out if the ligaments and tendons have been affected where the median nerve runs through the wrist. This is what causes the extra compression.
- Electromyography: used to evaluate and record the electrical activity produced by the skeletal muscles.
- Nerve conduction velocity.
These tests will show your doctor if you really have carpal tunnel syndrome, after they’ve tried the Tinel sign and Phalen maneuver.
You can try using a splint overnight for a few weeks. If that doesn’t help, you might also need to use it during the day for a month. Try to avoid sleeping on your wrists and use cold compresses.
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There are several medications used for carpal tunnel syndrome, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen. Corticosteroid injections can help with the symptoms for a period of time.
Carpal tunnel release is a surgical procedure where they cut the ligaments, releasing the pressure on the nerve. The surgery is usually successful, but it doesn’t always help, and may take months to heal.
The symptoms normally improve with treatment, but around 50% of cases still require surgery.
How to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome – postural recommendations
There are many changes you can make at work and at home to take pressure off of your wrists, including:
- Keeping the wrists in a neutral position.
- Make sure that when you are resting, you wrists are extended, relaxed, and straight. Avoid repetitive movements.
- Your computer screen should be at the same height as your eyes. The keyboard should be low enough so that when you’re typing, your wrists aren’t bent upwards.
- Avoid grasping and unscrewing things with three fingers, which puts pressure on the wrists. Use your whole hand. If you use your hands at work, rest them for a couple minutes every so often and switch hands regularly.
When you’re sleeping:
Keep your arms against your body and your wrists straight. If your wrists end up underneath your body, it can cause pain and swelling.
Use tools designed to reduce wrist injuries. Special devices for the computer, like ergonomic supports for the mouse and keyboard can really help with wrist problems. Rest once in a while and stop working if you experience pain or tingling.
There are also exercises you can do to improve circulation and reduce tension in the wrists and hands.
- Circle the wrists. Start with your palms faced down, then rotate both wrists five times clockwise, and five times counterclockwise.
- Tense your thumbs by turning your hands up and out, then stretch your thumb downwards with the opposite hand. Hold it there for around 10 seconds, then repeat with the other hand. Do this exercise five times.
- Extend all five fingers, with as much space between them as possible for 10 seconds. Repeat five times.
- Squeeze a rubber ball in your hand ten times. Then stretch out your fingers, and repeat with the other hand.
You may have to make changes to your working life, or your recreational activities. Some types of work involve tools that vibrate, and these are common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s common among professional musicians (like pianists, flautists, etc.).
Remedies for carpal tunnel syndrome that you can make at home
Here are some great remedies to help you reduce the pain and inflammation associated with this condition.
- A St. John’s wort infusion. Boil 3 St. John’s wort leaves for 10 minutes in a cup of water. Drink it when cool. If you have a cup per day, you’ll notice that the pain decreases and the tingling in the hand and wrist gets better. It also has a calming effect, helping break the psychosomatic cycle that the pain can cause over time.
- Flax oil. Take one tablespoon of flax seed oil for two weeks (or up to four weeks). According to data collected during recent research, the fatty acids in these seeds actively help reduce inflammation.
- Consume vitamin B6: Eat foods with this useful vitamin, like potatoes, brown rice, bananas, green vegetables, and chicken breast. You could also take 2 milligrams per day as a tablet or capsule.
- Using cold compresses on the hands and wrist. This helps reduce inflammation. Don’t use hot compresses or hot pads, because they may make the problem worse.
It’s also important to make sure you have good circulation, good nutrition, and get regular exercise. These are important for overall health, and can help you deal with this condition.
As long as you treat it properly, you won’t have any major complications. But if you don’t, you could permanently damage the nerve.
Just remember: a surgeon might insist on surgery, but it’s not always necessary and could even make things worse. If you make an effort and try these remedies before approaching a surgeon, you might be able to keep it from getting worse. We may not know what causes carpal tunnel syndrome, but we can at least treat the symptoms.