The carpal tunnel is a channel in the wrist and carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition where a nerve (median) is compressed and under pressure. Ligaments, tendons and bones in the wrist form a tunnel and the tendons used to flex the fingers pass through it.
If there is any swelling in the area this can compress the median nerve as there is little or no room for expansion. This can then result in tingling, numbness or even pain in the forearm or hand particularly on the thumb side.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women aged between 40 and 60 but men can get it too. It can affect both wrists and is usually in the more dominant hand.
What are the symptoms?
- A tingling sensation
- Numb hands
- Pain in the wrist and hand that can spread up the forearm
The weakness may mean that you find it hard to grip things. Early symptoms of pain or tingling usually start in the thumb and first two fingers and will usually occur more at night or early morning. Symptoms may be mild to begin with and come and go. If carpal tunnel syndrome becomes severe the median nerve may become permanently damaged and the thumb muscles may start to waste away.
A chiropractor would be able to differentiate carpal tunnel syndrome from other conditions such as arthritis or a trapped nerve in another area such as in the neck and arm.
The symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI) are similar. For example, coldness, tingling and numbness in the fingers.
After a thorough assessment and consultation/examination a chiropractor will be able to find out exactly where the problem is and what treatment to use.
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What are the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?
- Smaller carpal tunnels
- Weight – being overweight may cause carpal tunnel syndrome
- Age – increased risk as you get older
- An injury – such as a break, fracture or sprain
- Gender – women are more prone than men
- Other health condition – increased chance if you have diabetes or an under active thyroid
- Repetitive actions – work or hobbies where you need to grip tightly or use repetitive actions. Vibrating tools can also make it more likely
- Hormones – may develop during pregnancy or the menopause
- Wrist splint – will keep the wrist straight and help to reduce the swelling (usually worn at night)
- Medicines – and include steroid injections into the carpal tunnel. Pain may worsen in the following few days and effects may only last for a couple of months. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may help if the pain is not severe but are not reliable for long term relief.
- If other treatments have not worked or it is severe carpal tunnel release surgery may be considered as an option, but this is normally done as a last resort. This involves cutting the carpal ligament to release pressure and ease the symptoms.
Carpal tunnel can occur in both hands, occasionally at the same time or affect one hand after the other. A chiropractor will be able to check out the neck to establish if a problem there may be affecting the hands which can then be easily treated.
Experiencing pins and needles in the hand may indicate a trapped nerve elsewhere, either in the shoulder or neck and your chiropractor is able to get to the root of the problem and rule this out.
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