Carpal tunnel syndrome, (CTS), is a common condition resulting from nerve compression in the wrist. Thought to be the result of repetitive strain, often due to working practices, it is one of the most common of occupational health problems causing many lost working hours. It is estimated that around 45% of surgical procedures for carpal tunnel syndrome are related to working practice.
CTS is the result of compression of the median nerve which travels through the wrist and into the fingers, this results in the classic symptoms of numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and, in severe cases, muscle atrophy around the base of the thumb.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Symptoms often appear gradually and very often occur when an individual is sleeping – thought to be due to involuntary bending of the wrist causing further compression of the associated nerve.
Early symptoms may be mistaken for pins and needles and may even be blamed on poor circulation. Many patients also report a weakening of grip which causes them to drop items.
Diagnosis may take some time due to the vague nature of the initial symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. An EMG nerve conduction test will give a definitive diagnostic result.
Exercises and tips
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a frustrating condition as it can affect daily life, recent research appears to indicate that for those with mild symptoms of the condition the use of exercise may reduce the need for surgery by more than 40%. However if no improvement is noted as a result of physical therapy it may be necessary to consider a surgical option to resolve the symptoms.
- Extend and stretch wrists and fingers horizontally, as for a hand stand position, and hold for a five count.
- Straighten the wrists, relax the fingers; hold for five counts.
- Make a fist and rotate anti-clockwise, repeat at least five times.
- Make a fist and gently bend the wrist in a downward motion, do at least five reps.
- Straighten out the wrist and gently shake whilst relaxing the fingers, repeat at least five times.
Carpal tunnel exercises are intended to stretch the forearm muscles and decrease the compression of ligaments and tendons in the carpal tunnel area of the wrist, exercise is most beneficial when combined with other, physician recommended, treatment.
In order to reduce the risk of developing CTS caused by the work place steps should be taken to ensure that the work space and associated equipment are correctly positioned for hand and wrist comfort – this may well mean making adjustments to height and distance. When working on a computer for long periods the use of a wrist rest or brace will ensure the wrist is maintained at the correct angle. Correct posture and wrist position can greatly reduce the risk of CTS developing.
For those whose work involves long periods of repetitive tasks it may be necessary to change positions regularly and use different muscle groups, try to break up or rotate tasks so that movements are less repetitive.
Research continues into the causes and possible prevention of CTS however at present the only solution is to work at preventing the symptoms developing and, if they do arise, to deal with them medically.