Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the name for a group of problems that includes swelling, pain, tingling, and loss of strength in your wrist and hand. Women are three times more likely to have CTS than men.
What are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Typically, CTS begins slowly with feelings of burning, tingling, and numbness in the wrist and hand. The areas most affected are the thumb, index, and middle fingers. At first, symptoms may happen more often at night. Many CTS sufferers do not make the connection between a daytime activity that might be causing the CTS and the delayed symptoms. Also, many people sleep with their wrist bent, which may cause more pain and symptoms at night. As CTS gets worse, the tingling may be felt during the daytime too, along with pain moving from the wrist to your arm or down to your fingers. Pain is usually felt more on the palm side of the hand.
Another symptom of CTS is weakness of the hands that gets worse over time. Some people with CTS find it difficult to grasp an object, make a fist, or hold onto something small. The fingers may even feel as if swollen even though they are not. Over time, this feeling will usually happen more often.
If left untreated, those with CTS can have a loss of feeling in some fingers and permanent weakness of the thumb. Thumb muscles can waste away over time. Eventually, CTS sufferers may have trouble telling the difference between hot and cold temperatures by touch.
What Causes CTS?
As mentioned above, women are three times more likely to have CTS than men. Although there is limited research on why this is the case, scientists have several ideas. It may be that the wrist bones are naturally smaller in most women, creating a tighter space through which the nerves and tendons must pass.
Women deal with strong hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause that make them more likely to suffer from CTS. Generally, women are at higher risk of CTS between the ages of 45 and 54. Then, the risk increases for both men and women as they age.
Also, smokers with CTS usually have worse symptoms and recover more slowly than nonsmokers.
What is the Treatment for CTS?
It is important to be treated by a doctor for CTS to avoid permanent damage to the wrist nerve and muscles of the hand and thumb. Left untreated, CTS can cause nerve damage that leads to loss of feeling and hand strength. Over time, the muscles of the thumb can become weak and damaged. You can even lose the ability to feel hot and cold by touch.
CTS is much easier to treat early on. Most CTS patients get better after first-step treatments and the following tips for protecting the wrist. Treatments for CTS include the following:
- Wrist splint
- Physical therapy
What is the Best Way to Prevent CTS?
- Create an ergonomic workspace. Make sure that your workspace and equipment are at the right height and distance for your hands and wrist to work with less strain. If you are working on a computer, the keyboard should be at a height that allows your wrist to rest comfortably without having to bend at an angle. Desk or table workspace should be about 27 to 29 inches above the floor for most people. It also helps to keep your elbows close to your sides as you type to reduce the strain on your forearm. Maintaining good posture and wrist position can lower your risk of getting CTS.
- Take breaks. Experts believe that taking a 10 to 15-minute break every hour is an excellent way to prevent CTS.
- Vary tasks. Avoid repetitive movements without changing up your routine. Try to do tasks that use different muscle movements during each hour.
- Relax your grip. Sometimes, people get into a habit of tensing muscles without needing to. Practice doing hand and wrist motion tasks more gently and less tightly.
- Do exercises. After doing repetitive movements for a while, you can sometimes cancel out the effects of those movements by flexing and bending your wrists and hands in the opposite direction. For example, after typing with your wrist and hand extended, it is helpful to make a tight fist and hold it for a second, then stretch out the fingers and hold for a few seconds. Try repeating this several times.
Creekside Center for Women is patient-focused and knowledge-driven to provide comprehensive health care for women of all ages in Northwest Arkansas. Call today for an appointment. 479.582.9268