Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The Basics
Carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, is a painful condition which occurs when one of the hand’s major nerves – the median nerve – is compressed at the wrist. It causes tingling, numbness, and pain in the hand and arm. CTS is a fairly common condition, with more than 8 million Americans affected by it every year.
The carpal tunnel is a passageway in the wrist that’s about an inch wide. Comprised of ligament and bones, the pathway serves as a home for the median nerve as well as the flexor tendons, which bend the fingers. The median nerve travels through the arm and forearm and then passes through the carpal tunnel to go to the hand. This nerve provides feeling in the fingers and also controls muscles around the base of the thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tissues (synovium) surrounding the flexor tendons begins to swell, which puts pressure on the median nerve. The job of the synovium is to lubricate the tendons and allow your fingers move with ease. However, when the synovium swells, it invades the tunnel’s already narrow space and crowds the median nerve. Due to the tunnel’s tight, strong walls, it has little room to stretch or increase in size. It’s this pressure on the nerve that causes the symptoms of CTS.
Typically, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome begin gradually and do not occur as a result of a specific injury. At first, many people find that the symptoms tend to come and go. As the condition worsens, symptoms begin to occur more regularly. It’s not uncommon for nighttime symptoms to be worse than daytime ones. Many patients experience relief from shaking or moving their hands.
The most commonly experienced symptoms include:
- Numbness, tingling, and pain in the fingers
- Burning sensation up forearm towards shoulder
- Occasional shock-like sensations
- Weakness and clumsiness in the hand
- Loss of proprioception (awareness of where your hand is in space)
Causes and Risk Factors
A few of the most common risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Repetitive hand use: Repetitive, prolonged flexing of the wrist can cause pressure on the median nerve. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) has reported that CPS is most likely to occur among those working in factory settings where repetitive motion is constant. Studies suggest that there is a connection between extended computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome, but there is not yet enough consistent evidence to prove this to be a fact.
Pregnancy: While most people don’t typically think of pregnancy as a cause of CTS, it can actually play quite a large role in its development. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases in order to supply your uterus, placenta, and baby. This increase can be up to 50 percent. With all that extra fluid, the median nerve can easily become compressed.
Heredity: Studies show that genetics play a large role in whether or not one will develop CTS in their lifetime. If you have an immediate family member who has had CTS, your risk for developing it increases greatly. Additionally, other hereditary medical conditions such as arthritis and diabetes can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Gender and age: Multiple studies have shown that women are much more likely to develop CTS than men are. Similarly, the elderly are at a higher risk than younger adults or children are.
Obesity: Being overweight is considered to be a significant risk factor for CTS. Studies suggest that greater body mass is linked to reduction in the speed in which nerve messages are sent to the hand.
In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can be diagnosed through a simple physical examination. To rule out other causes such as arthritis or fracture, an X-ray or MRI may be used.
Typically, symptoms of CTS becomes progressively worse over time. Therefore, early diagnosis is extremely important. In some cases, simply wearing a wrist split can serve as adequate treatment. If left untreated, however, nerve damage and worsening symptoms can develop.
While surgery is still seen by some to be the solution to CTS, many are unaware that in 75% of all cases of CTS treated with surgery, symptoms return within a period of two years. As more and more research is done on the CTS, surgery is becoming an outdated method of treatment. Studies have revealed that the pain felt in the wrist and arms is likely just suggestive of problems elsewhere in the body. Results have shown a direction connection between wrist and arm pain to misaligned bones, ligaments, and muscles in the neck.
One particular study, published by the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, used 71 women with CTS and observed their range of motion when they moved their necks. Data showed that compared to women without CTS, these women were severely limited in terms of neck movement. The more intense the wrist and arm pain, the most restricted the women’s necks were.
While chiropractors have been aware of this link for years, the study finally confirms it: the pain associated with carpal tunnel originates in the upper spine rather than in the arm or wrist itself.
There have been multiple follow-up studies that have validated the success of chiropractic care as a CTS treatment method. One of the most well-known studies, published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, was conducted in 2010. While researchers expected to see an improvement of symptoms after chiropractic care, they were shocked to find that a huge 67% of patients reported improved symptoms after trigger point therapy alone.
When you visit the Moore Chiropractic Health Care Center of Austin for CTS treatment, Dr, Moore will first seek to relieve pain in the wrist and arm, and will then begin to focus on treating your range of motion issues. Dr. Moore has a variety of approaches for this, ranging from spinal adjustment to trigger point therapy. She will also provide you with exercises to perform at home in order to avoid further injury. Give us a call at (512) 459-5523 to begin treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome today.
While surgery is an expensive, intrusive, and risky treatment method, chiropractic care can produce better results without any of the undesirable effects of surgery. For most patients with a mild to moderate case of CTS, choosing the natural, holistic treatment approach is the most effective option.
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