How common is carpal tunnel syndrome?
How common is carpal tunnel syndrome?
In our increasingly digital society, we’re putting more strain on our wrists than ever. If we’re not typing on computers, we’re scrolling and tapping on our mobile devices, keeping our wrists bent and strained all day long.
This type of constant pressure on your wrists can eventually lead to a condition called carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects between four and 10 million Americans, making it possibly the most common nerve disorder today.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow tunnel in your wrist made of bones and tissues. It shields your median nerve, is located under the palm side of your hand and enables your thumb and first three fingers to move and feel sensation. When your wrist engages in excessive repetitive motions, it causes ligaments and tendons inside the tunnel to swell and compress the median nerve, leading to numbness, pain and/or tingling in your hands and fingers and weakness in your hand and/or thumb.
If you have carpal tunnel, your hand may even “fall asleep” regularly, causing you to drop things, and your wrist pain could cause you to lose sleep at night. Some can even experience pain and burning in their arm between the elbow and the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can worsen if the wrist is overextended repeatedly.
Physicians diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome via symptoms, physical examination, electrical testing and, in some cases, ultrasound or MRI.
While pressure on the wrist is the most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, anything that puts undue pressure on the median nerve can lead to the condition. This can include hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and pregnancy.
People are quick to self-diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome because it’s such a common condition. However, before carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, your doctor will have to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, like arthritis, tendonitis and other nerve issues.
Who’s at risk?
Your risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome is determined by a number of genetic, age-related, health-related and behavioral factors. People who are more susceptible to carpal tunnel include women, people between 30 and 60 and those with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. People who smoke, consume a lot of salt, have a sedentary lifestyle and a high BMI also have a higher risk. Finally, there are a few jobs that make it more likely you’ll develop carpal tunnel syndrome, including manufacturing, assembly line work, keyboarding occupations and construction work.
Prevention is key
It’s easy to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if you’re aware of your risk factors. Start by taking care of your overall health. Maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke (or quit if you do) and exercise. If you have a condition like arthritis or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions to keep it under control.
Next, take good care of your wrists. Do your best to keep them in a neutral position, use your whole hand (not just your fingers) to hold objects and try to alternate hands often when you’re engaging in repetitive movements. Practice an appropriate typing position, keeping your wrists straight with your hands a little higher than your wrists, shoulders relaxed and arms at your sides. Avoid activities that overextend your wrists.
Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment options
Mild carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can usually be treated at home or non-surgically. The sooner you begin these treatments, the less likely it is you’ll incur long-term damage to the median nerve, which could require surgery.
Non-surgical treatment options include:
- Wrist splints that hold your hand in a neutral position. This can be especially helpful for those experiencing wrist pain at night. Splints can be found in most drug stores, and often alleviate all symptoms in mild cases.
- Resting your wrist when it’s in pain or becomes numb.
- Icing your wrist for 10-15 minutes once or twice every hour.
- Mild pain medication, like acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
- Steroid injections into your carpal tunnel area to reduce inflammation.
How does Onward Orthopedics treat carpal tunnel syndrome?
If your median nerve is severely damaged, and you’ve tried other treatments but your symptoms are still preventing you from work and living a pain-free life, you may be a candidate for surgery and therapy.
Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery is performed by cutting the band of tissue in the wrist that crosses the median nerve, reducing the pressure on the nerve. The surgeon’s ultimate goal will be to decrease pressure on the median nerve by removing any tissue that’s pressing down on it at all. Typically, carpal tunnel syndrome surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, and you’ll be given local or general anesthesia.
Are you concerned that you might have carpal tunnel syndrome? If so, schedule an evaluation with us today by submitting an online form or calling one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.