4 things you need to know

Carpal tunnel syndrome: what is it?

Carpal tunnel syndrome describes a series of symptoms that occur as a result of irritation and damage to the median nerve in the wrist area. It is usually pain in the fingers, numbness, tingling, discomfort, stiffness and swelling of the fingers. Irritation and damage to the median nerve is caused by a narrowing of the carpal tunnel that puts direct pressure on the nerve. The median nerve of the arm passes into the wrist through a “tube” surrounded by connective tissue. This tube consists of the carpal bones and an extended band of the combined fascia. In carpal tunnel syndrome, this fascial band narrows the median nerve that runs under it and causes irritation. The median nerve divides into the palm and controls the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.

By the way, it is a misconception that people who do office work are more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome. People who do heavy manual labor and regularly strain their wrists and overburden are actually more likely to be affected.

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1. Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is almost always caused by carpal tunnel stenosis, which then compresses and damages a nerve in the middle arm in the wrist area. However, this narrowing can have many different causes. A narrow carpal tunnel is often congenital and genetic. Women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men. Another very common cause is regular manual labor and wrist strain. Contrary to popular belief, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs more frequently in people who do heavy, strenuous manual labor. Construction workers who move around and use heavy equipment or machinery are at greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome than are office workers who do, for example, desk and computer work. The carpal tunnel can also narrow and put pressure on the median nerve when water builds up in the wrists, causing ligaments and tendons to thicken. Obesity, diabetes, hormonal changes due to pregnancy or thyroid disorders could be possible factors.

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2. Symptoms of nerve damage

Carpal tunnel syndrome does not appear suddenly and without warning. Irritation of the median nerve due to the narrowing of the carpal tunnel is initially seen as abnormal sensations in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. Sufferers often experience tingling in their fingers and palms, which can also lead to poor cognition and a deteriorated sense of touch. In the early stages of the disease, the fingers often sleep in the evening when the hands are resting. As nerve compression progresses, pain often occurs, which can extend from the fingers to the arm and shoulder. If left untreated, the syndrome can cause severe nerve damage. There is a loss of sensitivity in the fingers and palm and muscular atrophy of the thumb ball, which is no longer properly controlled by the pinched nerve.

3. Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome

Doctors can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome through a series of physical exams. Because the irritated metacarpal nerve is less sensitive, tactile and sensitivity tests often provide information about the condition of the carpal tunnel. If sufferers can no longer spread their thumb properly or no longer see light touches on the palm, there is sometimes irritation of the metacarpal nerve. Because of the limited sensitivity to touch, patients sometimes find it difficult to grasp small objects with their fingers and thumb. Doctors also tap the wrist on the side of the pulse when making a diagnosis. If this causes pain, carpal tunnel necrosis can be completed.

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