The Carpal Tunnel is a passageway inside the wrist, a tunnel surrounded by bones and ligaments. Aiming to protect the median nerve, the nerve that runs down the arm and forearm into the hand, the Carpal Tunnel can sometimes be affected by a syndrome. This syndrome, called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, occurs when abnormal pressure is placed on the median nerve, causing decreased hand and finger function and leaving those affected sometimes unable to perform even the simplest tasks.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can develop for many years with no noticeable symptoms. However, when the first symptoms appear, they include burning or tingling sensations in the fingers, pain and numbness in the hand, an inability to grasp onto objects, and a weakness of the hands. Because Carpal Tunnel Syndrome involves the median nerve, it affects the parts of the hand that the median nerve supplies. These include the thumb, the index finger, the middle finger, and half of the ring finger. Since the pinky finger is not controlled by the median nerve, the pinky finger is not usually hindered by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Those experiencing symptoms for the first time may notice that their Carpal Tunnel Syndrome flares up at night and that they can sometimes get relief by vigorously shaking their hand.
Known as a “hidden disability,” people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may fully function from the view of an outsider, with hands that are able to engage in most normal activities. But, the person with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome usually has some restriction of hand function or significant pain during hand movement.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is often caused by underlying conditions that place a strain on the median nerve, compromising the blood supply it delivers to the fingers. These can include existing diseases such as diabetes, which increases the sensitivity of pressure to the median nerve, and hypothyroidism, which can increase the amount of water retained in the arms and wrists.
Many causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome aren’t disease-based; however, causes can be generated from external stimuli, such as wrist injuries, fractures of the arm bone, and dislocation of one of the carpal bones in the wrist. Pregnancy, because it can cause swelling of the wrists, can also place pressure on the median nerve by narrowing the carpal tunnel.
Many instances of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are thought to be idiopathic, having no obvious cause. However, even with idiopathic instances, certain activities can aggravate the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. These can include using power tools or working on an assembly line, constantly performing repetitive – and sometimes awkward – motions. Certain people can even be born with an abnormally narrow carpal tunnel, making them predisposed to the syndrome that may accompany it.
While Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can affect all demographics, it is far more common in women than in men. It is also most common in those who are middle aged and post-menopausal. Obesity and tobacco use increases a person’s risk.
Ways to minimize the risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome
It is wise to vary tasks throughout the day in order to keep the force and duration of the specific motion to a minimum. If a typical workday involves 5 types of activities; instead of doing task #1 for 1.5 hours and then moving on to task #2 for 1.5 hours, etc., it is best if task #1 can be performed for 30-minutes and then task #2 is performed for #30 minutes, and so on, repeating tasks #1-5 every 30 minutes until they are completed. If this is not possible for the type of work that is required, ask the employer health director to implement a task rotation schedule where workers perform a different type of task every 1-2 hours.
It is still important that in these 1-2 hour shifts, mini-breaks are taken for 2-3 minutes every 30 minutes. Implementing task variation is a very successful tool in keeping productivity high and repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome to a minimum.
Task Requirement Limitation
The ‘task requirement limitation’ protocol sets a limit on the duration and force of a given job or task, making sure that workers are only required to perform a certain number of repetitive movements or a certain amount of force over a specified period of time before a break is required. Implementing a mini break for every 30 minutes of work activity is very important in order to prevent muscle hypertonicity and fatigue from setting in, the main causes of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ergonomic systems and tools are important in helping reduce the amount of stress and strain that is inflicted upon the body, but ergonomic systems and tools by themselves cannot prevent or “cure” injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Strengthen the weak, underdeveloped muscles in order to help shorten/tighten them. Performing strengthening exercises to the muscle groups opposite to those that are short and tight allows the muscles on both sides of the joint to return to a more natural, balanced position. The strong, short muscles are lengthened and the weak, long muscles are shortened, creating equality and stability around the entire joint.
Try Vitamin B6 if you are retaining too much fluid. This is a natural diuretic and may help. For one month, eliminate all sugar, sugar substitutes, and limit grains from your diet. These foods all increase inflammation and thus worsen the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.