When most people think about carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), they associate it with years of heavy typing, computer use, and other office related tasks. But the truth is it can affect any person who performs repetitive movements with their hands.
That’s evidenced by the roughly 500,000 people who undergo surgery every year to treat CTS. It’s one of the most common hand operations.
There isn’t currently a proven way to prevent CTS, but there are things you can do to reduce the amount of pressure you put on your hands and wrists. Below is information to help you understand CTS and what you can do to reduce your chances of getting it.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of your wrist. It’s made up of bones, ligaments, and tendons.
CTS happens when the median nerve that runs through your carpal tunnel gets put under pressure or squeezed by swollen tendons in your wrist.
Arthritis and years of repetitive hand movements can cause the tendons to swell. When this happens, you start to feel symptoms of CTS.
What Are the Symptoms
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the most common symptoms of CTS include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hand
- An electric shock-like feeling mostly in the thumb, index, and long fingers
- Unusual sensations and pain that travels up the arm toward the shoulder
It’s common for symptoms to appear slowly and at any time. Many people report they feel it most on the thumb side of their hand. When symptoms are recognized and treated early, CTS can be helped without surgery.
Who Is at Risk
There are a variety of factors that make some people more likely to get CTS than others, like:
- Heredity: A trait that causes the carpal tunnel to be smaller can run in families.
- Sex: It’s more common in women than men. They have narrower wrists making it easier to put pressure on the median nerve. Hormone changes from pregnancy can also increase women’s risk.
- Age: People who are older experience it more often, usually from years of wear and tear.
- Health conditions: Illnesses like hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes can also play a role.
- Hand usage: Those who work with their hands often, like heavy laborers, musicians, and office workers, have increased risk. Past hand injuries can be a cause too.
What You Can Do To Help Prevent It
Here are some things you can try to prevent CTS from happening:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Don’t smoke: It interferes with blood flow and makes CTS worse
- Keep your weight down: Obesity can slow down the speed of nerve messages to the hand and can contribute to a lack of physical activity, which can increase CTS risk
- Avoid sleeping in positions that cause your wrists to bend or curl.
- Keep your hands warm to prevent stiffness. If you work in a place that’s cold, consider wearing fingerless gloves.
- Loosen your grip and force when you’re working with your hands. Chances are when you write, you hold the pen or pencil too tight, or when you type, you push the keys hard.
- Take frequent, quick breaks from repetitive activities to rest your hands or change their position.
- Stretch your hands, fingers, and wrists often, rotating them in circles and flexing and extending your palms and fingers.
- Improve your posture and body mechanics at your work station. Pay attention to your use of the computer monitor, chair, keyboard, and mouse or other equipment and tools. Click here for more information about good posture.
What To Do If You’re Already Experiencing Symptoms
If you’re already having some problems with CTS, here are things you can do to help it and reduce pain or discomfort:
- Apply cold packs to your wrists to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Wear a wrist splint at night. You can find them at most drugstores and you don’t need a prescription.
If you try these options, or any others, and find they’re not working for you, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, or cortisone injections may be an option.
The decision to have surgery is based on the severity of your symptoms. Many people who undergo surgery have an improvement in their CTS symptoms, but recovery can be a slow process.
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.