Orthopedic doctor examining a patient’s wrist for carpal tunnel syndrome in Pittsburg, Texas.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


Heed Warning Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Early Diagnosis is Key To Successful Treatment

Do you have a persistent tingling or numbness in your fingers or hand? Do your wrists or hands feel tight or swollen?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a type of repetitive stress injury that is most commonly caused by repetitive motion in the workplace. This can range from long hours of typing or data entry at a keyboard to long-term use of vibrating hand tools or other types of instruments.

This painful condition is caused by swelling of the flexor tendons of the hand. The flexor tendons, median nerve, and deep radial artery and vein all pass from your forearm to your hand through a very narrow ‘tunnel’ composed of bones and ligaments in your wrist. When these tendons or surrounding membranes swell, it exerts pressure on the median nerve, causing pain, numbness or tingling.

As specialists in the body’s musculoskeletal system, PM&R physicians (also called physiatrists) treat a wide range of illness and injuries that affect the body’s complex system of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

Repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome are some of the fastest growing workplace injuries. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the leading causes of lost workdays with employees averaging 30 days away from work. Repetitive stress injuries top the list of lost-time injuries and illnesses reported by employers.

Although not all cases of repetitive stress injury are work-related, we do see more of these problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, with certain occupations including computer operators, factory workers, even musicians. Due to the increased use of computers in the workplace, we are now seeing the same problems with white-collar office employees that were once limited mainly to assembly-line workers. Traumatic injury to the wrist and certain types of arthritis can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome can be simple or complex, depending on the severity and frequency of symptoms. Treatments can include physical therapy, stretching, special braces or splints, ice, strengthening exercises, anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injection. Surgery is normally a last resort for patients who do not respond to conservative treatments.

You may be one of the millions of Americans suffering from the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome if you’re feeling these sensations or if you:

  • Have difficulty grasping objects or find yourself dropping objects more frequently
  • Experience a weak feeling in your hands and lower arms, especially when you first wake up
  • Feel hand or wrist pain that sometimes travels up your arm to the shoulder
  • Experience decreased feeling in your thumb, index a nd middle finger

Catching this condition in its early stages is extremely important, because as it progresses and the muscles become weaker, the chances of successful rehabilitation can be significantly reduced. Prevention is often the best strategy. Computer users should consider the following tips for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome:

Sit Up Straight

Avoid slouching! Sitting in a more upright position puts less weight and pressure on hands and wrists. Your lower back should be pressed against the seat back with the spine straight and perpendicular to the floor. Hips and knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and feet should be flat on the floor or supported by a footrest. Good ergonomic posture and positioning are the best defense against developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Take A Break

Take frequent short breaks during extended time on the computer. Take a 20-30 second break every half hour to stretch the muscles in your hands, forearms and shoulders. Get up and move around if you can to stay relaxed.

Straighten Out Your Wrists

Don’t rest your palms or heel of your hand on your desk when typing or using the mouse. Try to keep your hands held up with the wrists in a straight position. A wrist rest for your keyboard can be effective in keeping your wrists in the proper position.

Taking these preventative steps can decrease your risk for repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. But if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome -persistent numbness or tingling in your hand-consult your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment greatly improves chances for a successful resolution to the problem.

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