Carpal tunnel is listed among the ten most common workplace injuries, and can be cause for real concern. If you’ve ever suffered from carpal tunnel, then you’re aware of how painful and debilitating it can be. Signs of carpal tunnel syndrome include tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hand and arm, caused by pressure on the median nerve. Various workplace conditions can cause carpal tunnel, such as working on an assembly line or using a computer mouse often. If you start to feel carpal tunnel symptoms, and they are disrupting your normal activities, you should seek professional medical help immediately.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
As mentioned, carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. It is a common condition that occurs when the nerve is squeezed or compressed in the wrist. The median nerve runs through a passageway from your wrist to your hand, and provides sensation to the palm side of your fingers and thumb. It is also responsible for delivering nerve signals to move the muscles at the base of your thumb.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel
Often there is no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, but rather a variety of reasons it can come up. Any activity or event that irritates or squeezes the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Swelling and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can cause carpal tunnel, as can a wrist fracture. Other factors such as heredity and health conditions can put someone more at risk for carpal tunnel than others. The most common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Repetitive hand use: repeating the same motions over an extended period will aggravate tendons in the wrist and cause swelling.
- Workplace factors: any work that requires prolonged or repetitive wrist flexing can create harmful pressure in the wrist.
- Heredity: an essential factor because the carpal tunnel might be smaller in some people, or there could be anatomical differences that run in families.
- Pregnancy or menopause: hormonal changes can cause swelling.
- Sex: carpal tunnel is more common in women than in men because the wrist area is generally smaller.
- Medications: a drug used to treat breast cancer, anastrozole, has been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Obesity: obese people are at a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Other health conditions: unfortunately, diabetes, thyroid gland imbalance, kidney failure, lymphedema, and rheumatoid arthritis are all associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
Now that you are aware of carpal tunnel syndrome causes let’s talk about the symptoms. Since we use our hands so often, you will probably know when something feels off. Symptoms from carpal tunnel can include tingling, weakness, and burning. Luckily, if carpal tunnel syndrome is caught soon enough it can be treated so that it doesn’t get worse or cause any permanent damage. If you think the syndrome is due to your job, you should start the process of claiming a workplace injury. Here are some of the common symptoms of carpal tunnel to look out for:
- Weakness in your hand
- Trouble holding things
- Shock-like feelings that move into your fingers
- Tingling that moves up the arm
- Burning, tingling, or itching numbness in your thumb and palm or index and middle fingers
- Fingers “fall asleep” or become numb at night
- Numbness and tingling in the morning that reaches to your shoulder
- Less grip strength as time goes on
Jobs That Could Lead to Carpal Tunnel
It’s no secret that your type of work can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Unlike back injuries from work, carpal tunnel isn’t limited to those on their feet all day. Repetitive motion is the only requirement, leading to a wide variety of jobs where carpal tunnel syndrome could occur. A work accident could also cause carpal tunnel if you sprain or break your wrist. These are some of the most common jobs where carpal tunnel syndrome is detected:
- Agricultural worker
- Assembly line worker
- Typing or data entry
- Anyone who works on a computer
- Jobs with repeated use of vibrating tools
What to Do if You Have Carpal Tunnel
If you think you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s essential to seek medical help early on. A wrist brace can treat carpal tunnel at first, but permanent damage can occur and could be a reason for surgery if it’s left too long. Initial treatment typically involves wearing a wrist splint at night. If there are daytime activities that cause flare-ups, try avoiding them or using cooling packs to reduce swelling. Sometimes over-the-counter drugs can also help with swelling and pain. Your doctor may decide to prescribe you some medicine or use alternative therapies such as yoga or acupuncture. Chiropractic care may be another option, but its effectiveness has not been proven yet.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse, it may be time to try surgery. Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States, so if you have to go that route, don’t feel ashamed. The surgery does not require an overnight stay but is typically done while the patient is under local or regional anesthesia. There are two different methods surgeons use, both of which involve cutting the ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
Tips for Preventing Carpal Tunnel
If you’re aware of the causes and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll be able to spot any signs of it early on. Another great idea, primarily if you work in one of the jobs listed above as high risk, is to take preventative measures. There are a few strategies you can take to minimize any stress on your wrists and hands:
- Take frequent breaks and stretch hands and wrists.
- Alternate tasks throughout the day.
- Keep your keyboard at elbow height or slightly lower.
- Hold correct posture.
- Switch out your computer mouse if it’s uncomfortable.
- Relax your grip and reduce your force.
- Keep hands warm, mostly if you work in a cold environment.
Why You Should Take Carpal Tunnel Seriously
Carpal tunnel syndrome can start as a mild inconvenience but turn into something debilitating. Physical injuries caused by the workplace are not something to brush to the side. Carpal tunnel can be an extreme inconvenience to your job, not to mention very painful. If you have any symptoms, you should seek help immediately. Knowing the causes and symptoms can help you identify carpal tunnel syndrome right away, primarily if you work in a job that puts you at a higher risk for injury.