What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition affecting the hand and wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway made up of bones and ligaments at the base of your hand. This tunnel contains the median nerve and tendons of the thumb and fingers. The tendons connect your muscles to your bones while the median nerve provides sensation and feeling to the fingers and hand.
Only the fingers served by the median nerve - the thumb, the index and middle fingers, and part of the ring finger are affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve carries signals from the brain to control the feeling and action of the fingers and hand. It allows you to feel temperature, pain, numbness, tingling, clumsiness and controls sweating of the hand.
When ligaments and tendons in the carpal tunnel become swollen and inflamed, they squeeze against the median nerve. This type of pressure on the nerve can injure the hand causing pain or numbness. Sometimes carpal tunnel syndrome can even be triggered by your job and people with this condition often experience difficulty performing simple functions such as fastening buttons, turning keys or unscrewing bottle tops.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is based on a physical examination as well as the symptoms presented. The doctor may also discuss the patient’s occupation and address the risks that may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome as well as available carpal tunnel treatments.
Tests for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Certain tests may also be performed to confirm the diagnosis and these include the Tinel, Phalen and electromyography tests.
The Tinel Test involves the doctor tapping the median nerve at the wrist and is said to be ‘positive’ if a tingling sensation is felt.
The Phalen Test involves the patient placing the backs of the hands together and bending the wrists for one minute to see if this causes any symptoms. The electromyography tests the nerves and muscles using electrical stimuli and can help to confirm the diagnosis.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is most common in women, and while it may develop at any age, it does seem to increase with age. People in their 40s and 50s are more likely to be affected.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually start gradually and include aching, tingling, "pins and needles", a swollen feeling, burning, numbness or pain in the hand and fingers. These symptoms may spread up your arm and tend to be worse at night or first thing in the morning. It can affect one or both hands, and occasionally even the arm and shoulder.
Initially symptoms may be mild or occur occasionally. As the symptoms become worse, numbness and loss of manual dexterity occurs. Weakness in the hand occurs making it increasingly difficult to grasp objects. In extremely severe cases, the thumb muscles may waste away or the median nerve may be permanently damaged. Temporary relief may be felt by hanging your arm out of the bed, shaking or massaging the hand.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is unknown. However, any condition that exerts pressure on the median nerve at the wrist can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms may also result from doing the same hand movements repeatedly.
This condition affects people who have occupations such as carpenters, assembly-line workers, musicians, mechanics, hairdressers, cashiers or grocery checkers. People who use vibrating tools are particularly at risk. Baking, gardening, golfing, needlework, knitting or canoeing are extramural activities that may also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- An injury to the wrist, such as a fracture or sprain.
- Tumors and Cysts
- Use of Oral Contraceptives
Help for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If carpal tunnel syndrome is brought about as a result of an underlying disease, it is best to treat the problem first. Mild symptoms may be treated with medications such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, a cortisone shot, rest and a splint. The splint will reduce the pain and helps to keep your hand from moving, but at the same time allows your hand to still perform most of its core functions.
Applying ice packs to the wrist, massaging the area, acupuncture and doing stretching exercises may also help. In cases where carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are severe, surgery may be necessary but this should be your very last option.
Natural Remedies for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Natural and holistic carpal tunnel treatments can also provide relief for the carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Using treatments such as homeopathic and herbal remedies is a gentler way of improving overall health and well-being.
Several herbs can reduce the inflammation associated with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms and act as anti-inflammatory agents such as the flowering tops of St. John’s Wort when applied as a cream, Meadowsweet leaves, White willow bark and Turmeric. Ginkgo biloba and Rosmarinus officinale (Rosemary) dilate and strengthen blood vessels and increase peripheral and cerebral circulation – helping to restore the functioning of the circulatory system and improving peripheral blood flow to the extremities as well as circulation to the brain.
Carpal tunnel treatments many times include Zingiber officinalis, more commonly known as Ginger. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties and is often used to treat joint pain.
More Information on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Tips for the Prevention of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Take regular breaks from repeated hand movements to give your hands and wrists time to rest.
- Try not to bend, extend or twist your hands if you are repeating the same tasks with your hands.
- Avoid working with your arms too close or too far from your body.
- Switch hands during work tasks.
- Do not rest your wrists on hard surfaces for long periods.
- Increase your intake of Vitamin B6 to ease the painful, numbing and tingling sensations.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, seeds, nuts and vegetables.
- If you are overweight, lose weight in a healthy manner.