Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CPS) is the nervous condition caused when the median nerve at the base of your hand is compressed or squeezed at the wrist level. The carpal tunnel is a narrow, elongated passage made up of ligaments and bones at the base of your hand. This tunnel also holds the median nerve mentioned above which is responsible for providing feeling in the first three fingers and the thumb. Swelling of ligaments or tendons in the carpal tunnel causes them to press against the median nerve and this causes a general numbness or loss of feeing or pain. CPS is the outcome of what is known as Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI), which is basically doing the same activity repeatedly, causing stress and swelling in the tissues. CPS can also be caused by wrist injuries, diabetes, and arthritis and is common to people who work continuously on computers, musicians, grocery or meat packers, assemble-line workers, etc, given the nature of their daily work. The steps detailed below tell you how to recognize if you've got CPS, diagnosis and treatment required and how to generally avoid getting CPS.
Recognizing symptoms. Some of the early warning indicators which point to CPS are pain when you continuously use your hand and wrist, numbness or a tingling sensation in the thumb, index and middle fingers, general weakness of the thumb, pain in the wrist or forearm or trouble when trying to hold or grip objects.
Diagnosing CPS. Visit your doctor if the pain and numbness continue for long periods. Testing for CPS can be done in any or all of these ways: (i) tapping the inside of the wrist and you feel a tingling or electric shock-like sensation; (ii) bending the wrist downwards for holding still for about a minute to check if there is pain; and (iii) conducting a nerve test or electromyography (EMG) to check out the muscles and nerves and find out whether their status is indicative of CPS.
Treating CPS. Depending on the cause of CPS, doctors will prescribe the appropriate treatment. If CPS is caused on account of a medical condition such as diabetes or rheumatism or arthritis, the solution is to alleviate or cure these problems. If CPS is due to RSI caused by the specific nature of your work, the treatment will be frequent resting of the hand, changing the way the hand is used, wearing a splint so that the wrist is immobilized but the hand and fingers remain free to use, using ice, a massage or various stretching exercises.
Relieving the pain. If you have pain, some of the ways you can reduce or relieve CPS are avoid using the affected hand or wrist, use the hand in a different way to do the same task, don't bend your wrists continuously over long periods, try and use both hands to carry out your task rather than just one. Medical assistance could be by way of prescribed painkillers or a shot of cortisone, but with the latter, the relief is only temporary.
Treatment for acute cases. In some cases, CPS may have reached a very acute stage where the above treatments may not help at all. For such cases, doctors will prescribe surgery as a remedy. CPS surgery involves cutting away the ligament or tendon pressuring the median nerve. This surgery is relatively minor and you can have the full use of your hand within a few months. Post-operative therapy will include several exercises for the wrist, fingers and hand that must be strictly followed.
Prevention being better than cure, follow these simple guidelines for avoiding CPS - early treatment for diseases which can lead to CPS, lose weight if you're overweight, keep resting your hands and wrists frequently, keep switching hands while doing any work, do not keep the wrist bent or placed on a hard surface for long periods, don't keep you arms too close or too far away from the body and make sure the height of your chair is properly adjusted so that forearms are level with the keyboard.