Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common condition that causes numbness, tingling, burning or pain in the hands and wrists. The disorder usually occurs in both hands, although sometimes only the dominant hand is affected.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
To understand this condition, we need to review some basic anatomy. Human hands are incredibly complex and contain many nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that work together to function. Because our hands are so small, many of the muscles that control hand movements are in the forearm. When the brain signals the muscles in our forearm to move our hand, the nerves and tendons along the path “light up” to carry out the movement. The carpal tunnel, located in the wrist, connects all these processes.
Normally, this all happens seamlessly, with no pain or discomfort. However, when this process takes place repeatedly, such as when we’re typing on our keyboards for hours at a time, the tendons and nerves in the carpal tunnel compete for space and can become compressed.
What are the symptoms of CTS?
Classic symptoms include weakness, numbness and tingling in at least two fingers. Commonly, the fingers affected are the ones supplied by the median nerve – the thumb, the index finger, and middle finger. At first, symptoms may only occur at night and are relieved by shaking out the hand or wrist. However, as the condition progresses, patients may experience pain throughout the day, clumsiness, loss of grip and loss of function in some muscles of the hand.
How is CTS diagnosed?
To provide a diagnosis, chiropractors begin by presenting a questionnaire to determine any risk factors. Next, they will conduct an assessment to “provoke” the symptoms – adding pressure over the carpal tunnel, or tapping, stretching or poking the median nerve. A chiropractor can also conduct some neurological testing to see if the patient has reduced sensation or loss of muscle strength in the area.
How is it treated?
Chiropractors provide non-invasive treatments that may alleviate symptoms and improve function of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Your chiropractor may use laser, ultrasound, or shockwave therapy, or more active techniques such as nerve-gliding – a technique whereby the chiropractor will guide you through range of motion exercises to improve mobility. Based on the severity of symptoms, use of a wrist splint may be prescribed. Early detection and diagnosis are highly recommended in order to determine the best course of treatment for you.
What can you do at home?
The first step is to remove the underlying cause.
- Consider modifying activities that require prolonged, repetitive movements of the wrist and fingers.
- Limit the use of vibratory tools like jackhammers, floor sanders and certain air-powered tools.
- Educate yourself on proper ergonomics for your home or office workspaces.