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If you spend a lot of time on your smart phone or computer and experience tingling and numbness in your hands, you may be experiencing the carpal tunnel syndrome. You may have heard of the carpal tunnel syndrome before, but a lot of people don’t know what it is. Here is a brief description:

The small odd-shaped wrist bones, called carpals, form a narrow tunnel-like space in the wrist. Through this tunnel passes one of the major nerves in the hand, the median nerve. Due to various reasons combined with incorrect ergonomics, the median nerve gets compressed in the carpal tunnel, leading to a constellation of symptoms. This is called as the carpal tunnel syndrome.


Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome

Apart from the median nerve, the tendons that flex or bend the thumb and fingers, also travel through the carpal tunnel. They are surrounded by connective tissue called synovium. When the synovium gets inflamed due to any reason, it swells up and exerts pressure on the median nerve. Usually, a combination of different factors makes a person prone to carpal tunnel syndrome.


What are the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome?

  • Repetitive motions of the hand and wrist, over a prolonged period of time, such as while using a keyboard or smartphone, or a musical instrument strain the flexor tendons, causing the synovium to press upon the median nerve.
  • Activities that involve keeping the hand and wrist in prolonged flexion or extension, such as playing a sport or driving long distances, can add even more pressure on the median nerve.
  • Heredity is a strong risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome. A narrow carpal tunnel provides even lesser space for the median nerve, and such an anatomical structure may run in families.
  • Health conditions such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes make you more likely to develop the syndrome.
  • Pregnancy is another major risk factor for development of carpal tunnel syndrome, due to the hormonal changes it involves.


What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Pain, numbness, and a burning or tingling sensation in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers are common. The pain and tingling may even radiate up the forearm to the shoulder. You may feel some shocks from the wrist to the fingers. A feeling of weakness in the hand and fingers is often experienced, due to which you may drop things, or be unable to perform fine movements.

These symptoms might wake you from deep sleep, as they are worse at night. You may also experience them while holding a phone or while driving.


How do you treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

Since this condition has slow progress you can often intervene in the early stages to prevent further progression. Apart from medical treatment with pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs and physiotherapy, some lifestyle changes would bring about major improvement in the discomfort.

If you perform some activities that constantly aggravate your pain and numbness, you might need to modify, or stop doing them. Avoid spending too much time navigating your smart phone. If you must spend a lot of time on the computer, then make sure to take frequent breaks to stretch out your wrists and hands. Maintain good posture, to prevent shortening of your neck and shoulder muscles, that will in turn affect your forearm and wrist.

You can also try an ice bath or hot fomentation to relieve the pain.

Treatment modalities:

  • Splints and braces are chiefly used to keep the wrist in a neutral position. You can wear these during the day, while performing activities that worsen the pain and discomfort. You can also wear them at night, to make sure that you don’t bend your wrist in sleep.
  • Tendon and nerve gliding exercises to keep the median nerve and the tendons moving freely inside the carpal tunnel. Consult a physiotherapist and make sure to repeat the exercises at least thrice a day.
  • If the pain and numbness persist even after following all of the above, then you may need pain numbing drugs or steroid injections in the wrists to relieve your symptoms.
  • The last option is surgery, where the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel is cut. It slowly heals and comes together again but, allowing more breathing space for the median nerve, after the ligament has been cut. You will need intense therapy after the surgery, and complete recovery may take up to 12 months.


Have you too been struggling with the pain and discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome? Tell us how it started and what made you feel better. Share what has been helping you get some relief from the pain.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Poet, bookworm, tech-worm, nature lover, entrepreneur