Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (although not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The carpal tunnel - a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand - houses the median nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed. The result may be pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm. Painful sensations may indicate other conditions.
Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers. Some carpal tunnel sufferers say their fingers feel useless and swollen, even though little or no swelling is apparent. The symptoms often first appear in one or both hands during the night, since many people sleep with flexed wrists. A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may wake up feeling the need to "shake out" the hand or wrist. As symptoms worsen, people might feel tingling during the day. Decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away. Some people are unable to tell between hot and cold by touch.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. Some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others, which makes the median nerve compression more likely. In others, CTS 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.
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 CTS symptoms.
Chiropractic joint manipulation and mobilization of the wrist and hand, stretching and strengthening exercises, soft-tissue mobilization techniques, and even yoga can be helpful. 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. The surgeon releases the ligament covering the carpal tunnel. The majority of patients recover completely after treatment, and the recurrence rate is low. Proper posture and movement as instructed by your doctor of chiropractic can help prevent CTS recurrences.