Want to know how you can prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and how you can cure it? In this article we aim to address both of these concerns.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by the squeezing of the median nerve and the tendons enclosed in the transverse carpal ligament. The tunnel location is approximately where the arm meets the hand, underneath the wrist and surrounded by bone.
In layman’s terms, try to imagine a larger outer pipe that encloses a number of different pipes. As the larger pipe begins to narrow due to a number of factors, it causes the other pipes to be constricted. These constrictions cause a variety of symptoms, resulting in numbness, tingling, pain, and difficulties associated to hand movements, among others.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A key to understanding whether you have CTS or not is determined partly in the nature of the pain. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve problem, not a muscle problem. Muscles may be dull, aching, or temporarily weakened, but nerve pain is characterized by sharp or tingling pain.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome don’t just arrive one day out of the blue. Instead, it is a gradual process over weeks, months, and years, where damage compounds and symptoms become more and more apparent. This includes numbness, tingling, persistent/recurrent pain, and weakness of the hand. These symptoms include:
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands and fingers
- Numbness and pain that “runs up” the arms and hands.
- The feeling of swollen fingers even though they show no visual signs
- Weakness in the hands and fingers, which includes difficulty gripping small objects, sudden reduced strength to lift small objects
- Night time suffering, including pain the prevents sleep and urge to shake out pain.
If any of these problems sound familiar in your workday, consult a doctor immediately to diagnose these symptoms correctly. Early treatments and prevention can offset permanent damage, which may prematurely end your writing-related careers.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Those aforementioned symptoms may be caused by the following:
- Born with a smaller “tunnel” than average
- Sprains or fractures in the wrist area
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Overly-active pituitary gland
- Fluid retention because of menopause or pregnancy
- A cyst or tumor in the tunnel area
- Are female (women are 3x more likely to develop CTS than men)
- Family history of CTS
Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Basics
It is possible to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but it’s dependent on your self-awareness of your actions that are directly or indirectly related to the use of your hands. Because of the myriad factors that cause carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to take all of factors into consideration. Do any of the following apply to you?
Alcohol and Cigarettes: Regular consumption of cigarettes constricts your blood vessels and slows your blood flow, exacerbating risk factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Excessive alcohol intake also increases these factors, while also slowing down your recovery times.
Exercise: Any type of exercise is beneficial to offset Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Stretching exercise, like yoga, is particularly beneficial, as it increases blood flow, recovery time, and reduces swelling. If you’re looking for more direct exercises, see “Preventative Exercises” below.
Posture: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is directly related to how your body is situated during the period of repetitious activity. Therefore, posture is incredibly important towards preventing pain and symptoms leading to worsening injuries. For writers that regularly use a keyboard, follow these practices:
- Sit with your spine against the back of the chair, keeping your shoulders relaxed
- Your elbows rest along the sides of your body
- Wrists should be straight and not bent. Avoid resting wrists on hard surfaces.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
- Don’t overly bend your neck. Instead, keep typing materials and your monitor as close to eye-level as possible.
Furniture and Hardware: Keeping the previous posture in mind, try to find ergonomic furniture that provides support and specifically prevents CTS and other repetitive-stress injuries. Similarly, changing mouse types and keyboard styles periodically while you work can change your range of motion completely.
Mental: While it is often overlooked, stress is a direct cause of muscle fatigue, lactic acid build-up, and slow recovery from injury. Also, you are more likely to get lazy with posture or health, which exacerbates risk factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Meditation and other calming activities should play a part in your treatment.
Use Your Voice: If your hands are hurting, why not consider significantly reducing how much time you spend typing. Instead, try using voice-recognition software or delegating the “grunt work” to subcontractors.
Massage: Hand and body massages are extremely effective in reducing swelling and tension that accumulates in the affected areas. This includes self-massage, as well as hiring a masseuse on a regular basis or bribing a significant other to reduce your pain.
Hand-related Hobbies: If you are engaged in repetitive keyboard strain, trying out other hobbies that use your hands in different ways can increase your range of motion and relieve accumulated pressure. Playing a musical instrument is one specific hobby, as well as crafting activities like knitting. However, more keyboard-related activities like programming should be avoided.
Nutrition: Poor nutrition is directly related to an increase in risk factors for CTS, including “bad” cholesterols and excessive sugars.
Wrist Brace: Wearing a wrist brace that surrounds the area of your carpal tunnel is one strategy to reduce constrictive movements. This also includes during sleep, where you may not have conscious control over your wrists’ alignment.
Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Exercises
As mentioned beforehand, prevention is key. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, be sure to take 10 minutes or more to exercise area. Just as runners warm-up before exercising to avoid injury, the same goes for a hand- and arm-specific occupation like writing.
Fingers and Hand Exercises:
- Clench your fingers of each hand into a tight fist.
- Release the fist and fan out your fingers completely.
- Repeat five times.
- Bend your thumb underneath your palm towards your pinky finger with your palms facing downward, holding for five seconds.
- Spread your fingers apart, turning your palms upward
- Repeat ten times
- Pull your thumb back gently towards your wrist. Hold for five second
- Repeat ten times with both hands.
- Make a loose fist in your right hand while pressing gently down with your left hand against the clenched hand.
- Your right hand should resist the force of the left hand for five second while keeping your wrist straight.
- Turning your right fist palm-down, press your knuckles against the let open palm for five seconds.
- Turn your right palm so that the thumb-side of the fist is up, pressing down for five seconds.
- Repeat the same exercises with opposite hands.
- Hold your right hand straight up shoulder-high while keeping your fingers together and your palm facing outward. This should resemble a traffic officer stopping traffic.
- With your left hand, bend the right hand back with your left, holding for five seconds.
- Repeat step 2, but with your fingers spread apart. Hold for five seconds.
- Repeat with opposite hands.
- Hold your pointer and middle fingers up of each hand, closing the other fingers towards your palm.
- Draw five wide circles clockwise with your fingertips.
- Draw five wide circles counterclockwise with your fingertips.
Treatments for CTS
If you are diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by a medical professional, the following treatments are available:
Splinting: Similar to a wrist brace, a splint holds your wrist straight.
Splinting is typically used for pregnant women or fluid buildup that is temporary in nature.
Pain Medications: Over-the-counter pain medication may help relieve short-term pain. However, there are risks to long-term use, as this may mask further damage.
Change of Activities: Sometimes the only treatment is to cease the activity or activities that are directly related to the cause of pain, either temporarily to allow healing, or permanently to cease further damage.
Steroids: Injections of corticosteroids can be helpful to reducing swelling, ease pain, and rebuild muscle tissue to strengthen weakened areas.
Diuretics: Because fluid retention is a cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the use of a fluid-reducing diuretic can ease pain and discomfort.
Surgery: Surgery is often considered as a last resort for those that are suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, especially for symptoms that persist over a course of six or more months. While there are a number of different surgeries available, the basic principle is to enlarge the “tunnel” to reduce pressure on the median nerve and ease constriction on tendons.
While Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may be the most known injury, there are a number of related injuries called “cumulative trauma disorders” that may also afflict sufferers. These include:
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Digital Flexor Tenosynovitis (known as Trigger or Snapping Finger)
- De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
- Guyon Canal Syndrome (known as Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome)
While each of these are related to writing and other activities, an in-depth description is beyond the scope of this article.
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Don’t let pain stop your writing career. Practice better habits and take a look at possible causes that makes symptoms more noticeable. Exercise and self-awareness can go a long way towards helping to you prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Simply put, if you are feeling pain, consult a doctor immediately. They can further diagnose your problems, advise immediate treatments, and ultimately keep you writing for many years to come.