If I work on my computer most of the day, how likely am I to develop carpal tunnel syndrome?
Most people are familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Either we have experienced the pain and inconvenience of this condition or we know someone who has. Anytime someone spends a lot of time at a computer keyboard and gets up rubbing their wrist, there is apt to be someone nearby speculating that those telltale twinges are a sure sign that surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is inevitable. But is this really true?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common of its type of injury and affects somewhere between 4 and 10 million adults in the United States. Despite, or perhaps because of, its familiarity, there are a fair amount of misconceptions about this condition.
What We Know
CTS is a type of nerve compression or nerve entrapment disorder. The name comes from the narrow pathway or tunnel that houses the median nerve. Bones and ligaments make up this tunnel and protect the nerve that controls our ability to do pretty much anything that requires bending our fingers. Any feeling or sensation that involves most of the hand and all but the little finger is made possible by the median nerve.
Problems with feelings and functioning in the hand begin when something happens that causes the carpal tunnel to become inflamed or swollen. To begin with, the tunnel is narrow and any type of inflammation has the potential to compress the space surrounding the median nerve. This pressure on the nerve is what leads to the symptoms that we associate with someone being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may appear suddenly following some sort of injury, but, more often than not, they become noticeable more gradually. In many cases, some symptoms may appear and then disappear for a while and then return. As the condition gets worse, however, symptoms will likely become more intense and be present most of the time. Some of the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain in the hand, wrist or forearm
- Burning sensation
- Shock-like jolts that may shoot through the arm
- Weakness in wrist and fingers
Misconceptions About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Probably the number one misconception is that if you spend a lot of time at a keyboard or some other activity that involves repetitive motion, you will inevitably end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. While it is possible to develop carpal tunnel syndrome doing activities that require repeatedly doing the same movements, like typing on a keyboard, research currently points to there being a strong connection to some sort of medical condition. These include, among others, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, diabetes and hypothyroidism.
Certain risk factors also increase the chance of developing this potentially debilitating condition. Some of those being studied with regard to their connection to carpal tunnel syndrome are obesity, substance abuse, smoking, stress and a hereditary connection within families. It is now believed that one or more of these factors set up a predisposition that is triggered by repetitive movements.
At our practice, our physicians are well trained in the comprehensive evaluation of the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. Our doctors have expertise in electrodiagnostic medicine (EMG and nerve conduction studies) All nonsurgical therapies can be offered including, when appropriate, ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel injections. Also, a fairly common misconception is that doing surgery to relieve the pressure on the median nerve is not very effective and, at best, only a temporary fix. Carpal tunnel surgery actually has a very high success rate of over 90%. Recovery can take around 6 weeks and recurrence is not often the case.
At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing hand or wrist pain or have questions about any of our treatment methods or services, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.