Numbness or tingling in the hands or fingers, a feeling of electric shock, weakness – if these symptoms sound familiar, you might suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Today we will be talking to one of our therapists Krzysztof Krasowski, PT, about this common affliction, especially among ladies.
Why does carpal tunnel syndrome mainly affect women?
Kris: The reason is based on anatomy. This syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel – the narrow passage on the palm side of the wrist, leading from the forearm to the hand, surrounded by bones and ligaments. When the median nerve is compressed, we feel numbness, tingling, and hand weakness. Females’ carpal tunnel is smaller than males, so they are more prone to develop the problem.
Who else can be affected by this disease?
Kris: I wouldn’t call carpal tunnel syndrome a disease. In most cases, it is entrapment neuropathy, which means that adverse changes in the nerve are caused by excessive mechanical compression. In short – we contribute to the onset of the problem with the work we perform. Fifty years ago this ailment was very rare yet nowadays it is the cause of up to 8% of all sick leave in some countries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is often associated with specific hand positioning on the mouse and computer keyboard and prolonged repetition of the same hand movements. It is common among hairdressers, who not only constantly work with their hands, but also overload them with a hair dryer. Among our patients are also office workers, dentists, laboratory workers, and musicians. One of our patients broke her wrist while skiing some time ago. The fracture led to the narrowing of the tunnel, resulting in irritation of the nerve and then all the symptoms. The problem is also commonly prevalent among cyclists or factory workers who, for years, repeat the same motions.
Are there other risk factors?
Kris: The most common are joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They cause deformation of the small bones of the wrist so that the space within the carpal tunnel is reduced. Other risk factors include hypothyroidism, kidney failure, gout, and diabetes, which impair nerve function. The problem often occurs among individuals who are overweight, as well as pregnant women and those going through menopause. The hormonal changes taking place in women’s bodies cause problems with fluid retention, which can increase pressure within the carpal tunnel, irritating the median nerve. Fortunately, pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome usually passes spontaneously after the baby is born.
Do all symptoms appear at the same time? What should we pay attention to?
Kris: Symptoms usually appear gradually. First, we occasionally feel weakness in the hand, tingling, and numbness in the palm and fingers – thumb, index finger, and middle finger, although sometimes it can extend to the ring finger. At night, we are awakened by pain in the hand, thinking that it has simply become numb, especially since the discomfort passes after moving the arm a few times. However, over time the pain appears more and more often, hands are weakened, and it becomes difficult to clench them into a fist. Our hand goes numb even when we are not sitting at the computer or sleeping. After some time, we may have trouble performing simple tasks, such as holding a car steering wheel. Lifting and holding objects can be problematic as a result of weakened thumb muscles, which are also controlled by the median nerve.
Can this problem be prevented and how?
Kris: Our median nerve dislikes the repetition of the same movements over and over again. If we have to perform an activity with our hands at work, we should use both hands alternately. This is especially important if we use equipment that vibrates or requires a lot of force. Even a few minutes of stretching or changing hands every hour can make a difference. We should avoid cooling our hands, so if we have to work in the cold, protective gloves are necessary. We should also avoid bending our wrists up and down, so when working at the computer, paying attention to the position of the keyboard is strongly advised. The keyboard should be placed at or below elbow height and the desktop should support our hands in such a way that wrists do not hang in the air. It is also essential to maintain correct posture so that the shoulders do not lean forward as this has a bad effect on the muscles of the neck and shoulders and, consequently, on the wrists, fingers, and hands.
How can carpal tunnel syndrome be treated?
Kris: It all depends on the cause of the problem. If you suffer from chronic diseases that affect nerve function, you need to consult a specialist. However, if the problem is caused by the way you use your hands at work, injuries, or poor posture, physical therapy may offer effective treatment. Through the use of manual therapy techniques, modalities, and appropriate exercises, pain and other unpleasant symptoms can be reduced and the range of motion of the hands can be increased. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome but are not sure whether physical therapy would be effective in your case, we offer a free consultation. After a short evaluation, a therapist can decide if physical therapy is the right treatment path in this specific case.
If you suffer from wrist pain, call us or click here to schedule your COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATION with one of our experienced therapists.