Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

by Amy Pusey
(last updated April 22, 2009)

All you know is that you cannot lift one more box, type one more key, or sort one more envelope because the pain in your hand or wrist is practically unbearable. You may have even reached the point where taking a break and shaking out your hands to loosen them up offer no relief from your discomfort. This, my friend, is probably Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and there are treatments available that will help you get rid of, or limit the recurrence of, the painful symptoms associated with the condition. Fortunately, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome neither is serious nor causes permanent damage when treated in its early stages. There are symptoms associated with the condition that you can look to identify, including:

  • Do you have difficulty grabbing items or opening containers?
  • Are you experiencing numbness and tingling sensations in your thumb, index and middle fingers?
  • Do you have a general weakness in your thumb limiting its use in grasping items?
  • Are you feeling persistent or shooting pain in your wrist, hand, and forearm?
  • Does the pain increase when you are forced to use your hand and wrist more than usual?

In addition to repetitive motions associated with your work and daily living, you should make note of other potential causes that may be behind the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. While these are not the usual suspects, they can certainly contribute, and all possible sources should be discussed with your doctor. If you have recently sprained or hurt your hand or wrist, this can initiate the condition, and you may want your doctor to take an x-ray because sometimes fractures can occur to lesser bones without the extent of the injury being realized. Our lovely mothers-to-be have one more ailment to add to their list of physical changes because Carpal Tunnel can occur in the latter months of pregnancy. So, not only does your back ache, but your hands might ache, too. On a more serious note, systemic diseases, such as diabetes, thyroid, and rheumatoid arthritis, have been known to be responsible for the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

In order to make a proper diagnosis, a doctor may conduct one or more of the following tests:

  • Physical Examination: Consists of the hands and wrists, forearms to elbows, shoulders, and the neck being checked for pain, swelling, tenderness, radiation of heat, or discoloration. The doctor may also do a blood test to submit for laboratory testing to rule out diabetes and thyroid, or order an x-ray to rule out rheumatoid arthritis and unnoticed fractures.
  • Phalen Test: Used to identify wrist flexibility, this test consists of the doctor having the patient place the forearms in an upright position with the fingers pointing down, and the pressing the backs of the hands together to see if the typical symptoms of tingling and numbness develop in 1-2 minutes.
  • Tinel Test: This is a very simple procedure that requires the doctor to press directly on the area of the affected nerve located in the wrist. The test is positive if the patient immediately experiences a tingling sensation, or a sudden shooting pain through the wrist.
  • Electrodiagnostic Tests: There are a few in this category: 1) electrodes are attached to the wrist and bursts of electric current are sent through them; then, the speed in which the affected nerve relays impulses are measured. If it is a slow response, there is a problem; 2) electromyography uses a very thin needle inserted into the affected nerve, and monitoring of the electrical activity will indicate if there is any damage to the nerve; 3) ultrasound imaging is used to determine nerve damage in the wrists.

For individuals diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome there are non-surgical treatments (i.e. drugs, exercises, alternative therapies,) as well as surgical treatments for the more severe cases. Your doctor will discuss the most appropriate treatment plan for your particular situation.

Author Bio

Amy Pusey

With over 18 years experience in operations and human-resource management, Amy Pusey uses her skills in her consulting and freelance writing activities. She is a freelance writer for Tips.net, as well as a resume writer for GreenThumbResumes.com. ...


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