Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) refers to the compression which causes pressure on your median nerve. When swelling occurs in the tendons of the wrist, it applies pressure to the nerve. The median nerve runs through the forearm; located on the palm side of the hand and is called carpal tunnel. This nerve is responsible for the movement and feeling of your thumb and all fingers except the pinky finger.
It is a sensation that can be described as numbness or tingling in the hand, or a feeling that is similar to an electrical shock passed through the thumb, index finger, and middle finger.
People are generally unaware of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and shrug it off as a temporary numbness or weakness in the hand and the condition is often let go without consultation with a doctor. However, if left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can progress to the point where its symptoms can last longer than they initially used to.
A variety of factors, including age and gender, play a major role in causing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
People between the age of 30 and 60 are likely to suffer from CTS. Women have also been observed to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome three times more when compared to men. In some cases, it can be a heredity cause, where some people have a narrower carpal tunnel in their wrists.
It is more prevalent among people with the following medical conditions:
- High Blood Pressure
- Thyroid Dysfunction
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Work Place
It is easier to understand why carpal tunnel syndrome can affect people in the workplace. Since the movement of the wrist causes it, it can occur due to repetitive or prolonged physical activities, or because of the following working conditions:
- Exerting force with the hands
- The tasks that put your upper body in an awkward position. Such as while reaching above the shoulder and angulation of the wrists.
- Excessive vibration absorbed from power tools
- Cold temperatures
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor categorizes carpal tunnel syndrome as one of the workplace hazards under Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). Such cases accounted for 33% of all worker injuries and illness, and have also led to frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.
There is a general misconception that people who have prolonged exposure to typing on a keyboard suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, but in fact, the scientific community has disproved it. However, many work activities have been shown to aid the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
While typing on a keyboard does put pressure on the carpal tunnel, it does not count as a contributing factor. Typing on a keyboard, on the other hand, is known to cause pain or strain in the hand and wrist. Such disorders are called upper-extremity disorders.
As we outlined the general causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, one leading cause is repetitive manual work that requires a person to apply forceful grip. For example, people working in manufacturing, assembly line work, and construction work.
Workers who use vibrating tools excessively can damage their median nerves, which is a contributing factor. For example, workers who have to operate chainsaws in a butchering facility or loggers who have to cut logs.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There is another misconception that the use of chiropractors or physical therapists can cure carpal tunnel syndrome. That is not true and considered as a futile attempt. The only effective treatment listed is surgery.
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome can begin by making lifestyle changes, and through the treatment of diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
In the case of upper-extremity disorders related to the use of computer keyboards, therapies can help in alleviating symptoms. Interventions are also necessary. A change in workplace setup can ensure your hands do not perform the awkward movements. For example, using a keyboard or mouse with wrists in a neutral position or setting the keyboard in a way that forearms remain parallel to the floor, at a 90-degree angle.
In the workplace, it is the responsibility of employers to educate employees on workplace hazards. OSHA safety course is a resourceful way to do just that.