Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the most investigated, researched, and talked about disorder when it comes to work-related injuries to the upper extremities because it is often the cause of so much lost work time, disability costs, and the source of financial hardship for many of its sufferers. So, the questions are: Is there a way to detect it early? What can be done to prevent CTS? What can the patient do to facilitate in the treatment process of CTS?
- EARLY DETECTION: Because CTS symptoms usually start out mildly, maybe a little numbness or tingling in the hand or fingers that can be easily “shaken off,” people usually do not think of these early symptoms as, “…a big deal” and consequently, do nothing about them. After a while, and the time depends on how severely the median nerve is pinched, you may start waking up at night needing to shake out your hands in order to return to sleep. Similarly, when driving, you may need to change your hand position on the steering wheel due to the same symptoms. If you are really stubborn (and many people are) and you STILL don’t give in and seek treatment, then buttoning shirts, writing, crocheting, knitting, playing piano, typing, etc., may all soon become more difficult. The KEY in early detection is to NOT ignore the early symptoms.
- PREVENTION: There are several highly effective prevention strategies when it comes to CTS. For example, recognize that certain conditions predispose us to CTS and anything to avoid and/or properly manage these conditions will help. Some of these conditions include diabetes mellitus, pregnancy, the use of birth control pills, inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid or lupus), hypothyroidism, and obesity. From an ergonomic approach, make sure your workstation is set up properly including (but not limited to) the position of the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, and your chair. Set up the area so the extremes of wrist bending can be avoided. If a wrist brace doesn’t get in the way, it may help, especially when there is a high incidence rate of CTS among your co-workers. Most importantly, small mini-breaks and stretching can be highly effective during the day. If you develop any symptoms, seek treatment right away!
- SELF-MANAGEMENT: Certainly consider and implement the “prevention” approaches described above in #2. Specific exercises for stretching, strengthening, and dexterity REALLY HELP! Your doctor of chiropractic can teach you these, as it is important that you perform the correct exercises accurately. Improper exercises may only add to the problems that lead to CTS or worsen the condition if it’s already present. Control your diet to avoid obesity, to control diabetes, and to avoid the other \preventable conditions described above. Wearing a wrist splint, especially at night can also really help. There are many types from Velcro wrist wraps with or without thumb loops to cock-up splints, carpal lock splints, and many more. The key as to whether to use a wrist splint or not during work is largely dependent on the comfort of the splint during the work day. Many occupations simply require too much wrist bending or movement for the splint to be comfortably worn during the work day which ends up bruising the forearm and/or hand due to the repetitive motion into the edges of the splint. If or when daytime use of the splint isn’t tolerated, use it only at night to prevent extreme wrist bending while sleeping. This usually REALLY helps. Bottom line, remember the saying, “…an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”