Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most pervasive nerve conditions in the United States, impacting upwards of 10 million people.
One of the best ways to treat and avoid carpal tunnel syndrome is to understand what causes it. Here, Dr. David Wu, our interventional pain management specialist at CurePain, explores carpal tunnel syndrome and its root cause.
The problem behind carpal tunnel syndrome
To understand what causes carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s best to begin with an anatomy lesson.
Your wrist is equipped with a rigid structure called the carpal tunnel, which is made of a variety of bones, tendons, and ligaments and creates a passageway from your wrist to your hand.
Here, the median nerve passes through and supplies sensation to your thumb, your index and middle finger, and the thumb side of your ring finger. It also sends the necessary nerve signals that help you achieve motor function in your thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops whenever the median nerve becomes squeezed or irritated. The result is tingling, numbness, and weakness in your hands and fingers.
A variety of factors can result in stress on your median nerve, including:
- A wrist fracture or dislocation
- Wrist arthritis
- Anatomically smaller carpal tunnels, common in women
- Nerve-damaging conditions, such as diabetes
- Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Medications, such as those used to treat breast cancer
- Bodily fluid changes, such as fluid retention during pregnancy and menopause
Perhaps the most common risk factor of carpal tunnel is repetitive stress. If you have a job that requires you to repeat wrist movements, work with vibrating tools, or even type for long periods, it can cause damaging stress on your median nerve.
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome as soon as possible is important. Leaving it untreated can increase your risk for permanent nerve damage and chronic wrist pain.
We diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome through a variety of physical exams and imaging tests. We take the time to thoroughly review your symptoms and health history before reaching a diagnosis.
If we determine that you have carpal tunnel syndrome, we often recommend that you begin by wearing a wrist-hand orthotic. To help you manage discomfort and other symptoms, we typically recommend corticosteroid injections that help control inflammation in your wrist.
Should these early interventions fail, you may be a candidate for an outpatient surgical procedure to repair the damage in your wrist.
Other strategies for carpal tunnel syndrome
Beyond braces and injections, there are certain adjustments you can make that help you manage carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, changing the patterns of your hand and wrist use can reduce the amount of repetitive stress on your median nerve.
You may also try the following:
- Take short breaks often
- Reduce and/or relax your grip
- Maintain a relaxed or neutral wrist position when possible
- Improve your posture to support wrist positioning
- Invest in a supportive mouse pad
It’s also a good idea to keep your hands and wrists warm, as colder temperatures can cause stiffness. If you can’t control the temperature, try fingerless gloves that offer warmth and mobility.
If you suspect you have carpal tunnel syndrome, and you’d like to get started on treatment, you can request an appointment online or over the phone at our Torrance, California, office today.