Is it just a cramp? A muscle spasm? More than likely, you could be experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition seen annually by physicians more than two million times. It strikes three times as many women as it does men and it accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all repetitive strain injuries.
What is it?
Your median nerve, which controls sensations
- Burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle fingers
- Fingers that feel useless and swollen with little or no apparent swelling
- The need to "shake out" the hand or wrist upon waking
- Decreased grip strength
- Inability to grasp small objects
- Inability to distinguish between hot and cold to the touch
What causes it?
You may think that carpal tunnel syndrome occurs only in people who work at a computer all day, but carpal tunnel syndrome is typically caused by a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve—not just excessive computer use. Some people have a genetic predisposition caused by an unusually small carpal tunnel. In some cases, doctors are unable to identify a cause of the symptoms. Additional factors that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Injury or trauma to the wrist that causes swelling
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Mechanical problems of the wrist joint
- Work stress
- Repeated use of vibrating tools
- Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause
- A cyst or tumor in the canal
How can you prevent it?
More than one quarter of a million carpal tunnel surgeries are performed each year in the U.S.
For other jobs that entail
Anyone can take steps like these to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome (or help alleviate its symptoms), but research has yet to prove that these steps will definitely prevent the problem.
How is it treated?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated in a surgical or non-surgical manner. The initial treatment usually involves resting the affected hand or wrist for at least two weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid more damage from twisting or bending.
If the wrist is inflamed, cool packs may reduce swelling. One interesting note that deserves special attention is that yoga has been shown to effectively reduce pain and improve grip strength among patients with carpal tunnel syndrome! Your best bet is to consult with your physician to discuss which treatment options may be best for you.
Carpal tunnel exercises can help prevent and ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. While these exercises alone are not a substitute for treatment and ergonomic positioning, they may offer some relief.
You can try this movement series at the start and end of your work shift, as well as during any breaks you take throughout the day.
- Stand up straight and extend both arms straight out in front of you.
- Extend your wrists and fingers acutely as if they were giving a "stop" signal. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Now straighten your wrists while relaxing your fingers.
- Keeping your wrists straight, make a fist and squeeze it tightly. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Keeping your fists clenched, bend your wrists down. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Straighten both wrists and relax your fingers again.
- Repeat this series 5-10 times, then relax your arms by your sides.