Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who Gets Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

     I always thought Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was just a way for people to complain about their everyday aches and pains. Until I got it.

     I was diagnosed after a hand injury which involved some minor surgery and subsequent swelling in my hand and wrist. This is what brought on the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, known in the medical biz. as CTS. But when the therapist described the symptoms to me, I instantly recognized that I'd been showing signs of CTS for years.

     The symptoms:  tingling or numbness in your thumb, forefinger, middle finger and the inside of your ring finger. But not the outside of the ring finger, or the pinkie finger. The problem typically starts at night, then as symptoms progress they affect you during the day. Symptoms can spread to the palm of your hand and even radiate up the arm. Do you find yourself shaking your hand and arm to get rid of pins and needles? You might have CTS.

     The problem:  It's the median nerve. This nerve runs through a narrow tunnel along the inside of your wrist. If the nerve or surrounding tissue swell up, then the nerve gets pinched resulting in pain and numbness. The swelling is often caused by making repetitive movements over a long period of time -- such as typing on a keyboard for six or eight hours a day for 10 or 20 years. CTS is associated with age (of course), as well as injury and certain diseases such as arthritis and diabetes.

     The solution:  The first thing to do is stop performing the repetitive motion that caused the problem in the first place. Sometimes wearing a wrist split at night can mitigate symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Motrin or Alleve can help with the pain and swelling.

     If home remedies don't work, a doctor can give you a steroid injection, which is most effective in alleviating a sudden flare-up. Surgery is the last option. The surgeon makes a two-inch incision into your wrist, cuts into the ligament and -- presto! -- your problem is solved. Or so I'm told.

     I've had my steroid injection. I hope it works, because the next step is surgery. I've talked to several people who've had the operation. They claim it's not bad at all. Recovery time is pretty quick; you don't have to wear a cast or splint; and the operation usually works.

     All that is fine. But I'm still hoping it will go away by itself.

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