What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)? Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a problem of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when the median nerve gets compressed in the carpal tunnel—a narrow tunnel at the wrist—made up of bones and soft tissues, such as nerves, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. The compression may result in pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand and wrist, which radiates up into the forearm. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the most common of the ‘entrapment neuropathies’—compression or trauma of the body’s nerves in the hands or feet.
What are the Symptoms? Burning, tingling, itching, and/or numbness in the palm of the hand and thumb, index, and middle fingers are most common. Some people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome say that their fingers feel useless and swollen, even though little or no swelling is apparent. Since many people sleep with flexed wrists, the symptoms often first appear while sleeping. As symptoms worsen, they may feel tingling during the day. In addition, weakened grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist or grasp small objects. Some people develop wasting of the muscles at the base of the thumb, while others are unable to distinguish hot from cold by touch.
Why Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Develop? Some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others, which makes the median nerve compression more likely. In others, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can develop because of an injury to the wrist that causes swelling, over-activity of the pituitary gland, hypothyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, mechanical problems in the wrist joint, poor work ergonomics, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, and fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause.
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed? Carpal Tunnel Syndrome should be diagnosed and treated early. A standard physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if your symptoms are related to daily activities or to an underlying disorder. Your doctor of Chiropractic can use other specific tests to try to produce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common are:
- Pressure-provocative test. A cuff placed at the front of the carpal tunnel is inflated, followed by direct pressure on the median nerve.
- Carpal compression test. Moderate pressure is applied with both thumbs directly on the carpal tunnel and underlying median nerve at the transverse carpal ligament. This test is relatively new.
Laboratory tests and x-rays can reveal diabetes, arthritis, fractures, and other common causes of wrist and hand pain. Sometimes electrodiagnostic tests, such as nerve conduction velocity testing, are used to help support the diagnosis. With these tests, small electrodes, placed on your skin, measure the speed at which electrical impulses travel across your wrist. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome will slow the speed of the impulses and will point your doctor of Chiropractic to this diagnosis.
What is the best form of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Relief treatment?
Initial therapy includes: • Resting the affected hand and wrist • Avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms • Immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending • Applying cool packs to help reduce swelling from inflammations. Some medications can help with pain control and inflammation. Studies have shown that vitamin B6 supplements may relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome symptoms. Other treatments include Chiropractic joint manipulation and mobilization of the wrist and hand, stretching and strengthening exercises, and soft-tissue mobilization techniques.
Scientists are also investigating other therapies, such as acupuncture, that may help prevent and treat this disorder. Occasionally, patients whose symptoms fail to respond to conservative care may require surgery which we recommend to be the last resort. During surgery, the surgeon releases the ligament covering the carpal tunnel which relieves the pressure on the nerve, and the recurrence rate is low. Proper posture and movement as instructed by your doctor of chiropractic can also help prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome recurrences.