Nowadays more and more jobs involve keyboards, keeping static positions for hours or repetitive movements. Depending on our posture and the preventive equipment at hand, these jobs or activities put us at risk of developing something called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, often abbreviated CTS, is an extremely common condition that causes numbness and pain in the hands and wrists, often leading to difficulty or inability to use your hands.
It’s believed that about 1-2% of the Canadians experience symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome on a regular basis.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or CTS?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common nerve-related entrapment injuries where the peripheral nerves remain compressed over a long period of time.
The condition refers to the carpal tunnel, a passageway located in the wrist, surrounded by ligaments and bones, and containing tendons responsible for bending the fingers and thumb, as well as the median nerve which provides sensation to most of the fingers.
The people most affected by these conditions are gamers, those required to work on laptops or computers for long periods of time, as well as those having occupational exposure to excess vibration.
While CTS can occur at any age, most people who suffer from it are between 40 and 50 years old and it also affects woman more than men. Pregnant woman at their 3rd trimester are at increased risk also. Moreover, it CTS has a prevalence for people with diabetes, metabolic disorders and obesity.
What are the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
CTS symptoms gradually worsen with time if left untreated. Here is a list of the expected progression of symptoms through time :
Numbness and/or tingling in the fingers and hand (which may worsen at night or when waking up)
Feeling pins and needles in the fingers and hand
Difficulty feeling with the fingertips
Reduced sensitivity to external stimuli (i.e. heat)
Progressing weakness in the hand
Gradual difficulty doing tasks with the affected hand
Reduced hand dexterity
Swelling on the fingers
It is important to seek help and treatment early in the disease course. So talk about it with your doctor. This is because late symptoms are a sign or permanent nerve damage or destruction. In other words, if a patient waits until he has reduced dexterity or severe hand weakness, even a surgery will not be able to reverse these symptoms of permanent nerve damage.
How to Diagnose it and How to Treat it?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is usually diagnosed by physical examination. Blood tests and X-rays complete the investigation. Generally, if these tests suggest CTS, then a specific electrodiagnostic test is done to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, MRI examination can be asked to better appreciate the extent of nerve involvement or to rule out other causes.
Initially, non-surgical management will include the use of OTC (over-the-counter) pain-relieving medications, splinting, oral or injected corticosteroids, ultrasound therapies, and alternative therapies, including acupuncture and yoga etc.
The surgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome is considered in patients whose symptoms have been present for over 6 months. The surgery may be performed by standard incision or endoscopically (with a very small incision and a small camera). It is one of the most common surgical procedures in Canada and provides more durable, long-term benefit than nonsurgical regimens.