Over the past couple of decades, due to a nationwide rise in computer (and now Smartphone) usage, carpal tunnel syndrome has become a household term. We’ve been warned for years of the importance of using the proper posture and hand positions when typing, texting, scrolling, and/or swiping on our laptops and mobile devices. If we don’t, we’re told we will inevitably develop carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) down the road… but what is carpal tunnel syndrome exactly?
While the term gets tossed around a lot, there’s often not a lot of explanation given as to what this syndrome actually is, how it is diagnosed, or how it is treated. Because of this, a lot of people assume that any hand or wrist pain incurred from typing or texting must be carpal tunnel syndrome. In this article, we’ll set the record straight on carpal tunnel and how it differs from other office work related injuries to the hands and wrists. Then we’ll discuss how it’s treated and when you should see a doctor or hand surgeon.
What Is Carpal Tunnel?
First of all, the carpal tunnel is a passageway inside your wrist, on the palm side, the function of which is to protect the tendons that run to your fingers and the major nerve that runs to your palm. So, yes, you have a carpal tunnel, but that doesn’t mean you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the carpal tunnel is compressed, and that nerve is pinched. Early symptoms include numbness, and the syndrome eventually leads to weakness in the hand(s). It is so strongly associated with office work because the carpal tunnel can be compressed if you type with your hands at an angle, with your wrists resting on the desk or keyboard at a lower elevation than your palms.
How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?
If you experience hand or wrist pain or numbness after you’ve been typing or texting, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, but you may also have another type of repetitive motion injury from your posture and hand position while typing. It’s important to get a professional diagnosis because self-diagnosis and at-home treatment could actually make things much worse if you are wrong about your condition.
To avoid a lot of pain and suffering, see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing tingling, numbness, or pain in your hands or wrists. Your general practitioner should refer you to a qualified hand surgeon who can help you. When you go in for diagnosis, your doctor may:
- Perform a physical exam on your hand(s) to determine whether you’ve lost strength or suffered nerve damage
- Take an x-ray of the affected area to rule out other possible causes of the pain or discomfort, such as an injury or arthritis
- Use an electromyogram to test check for muscle damage and/or conduct a nerve conduction study to test for nerve damage
All of these tests will help to determine whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome or another problem with your hand and/or wrist. Carpal tunnel treatments include partial or total immobilization and stabilization of the wrist, hand therapy, and prescribed nSAIDs like ibuprofen or corticosteroids. If the condition progresses, surgery may be necessary, but if your problem is diagnosed and treated early, your orthopedic surgeon should be able to help you with non-invasive treatments.
Here at Arora Hand Surgery, we care about your health. If you are feeling hand or wrist discomfort and worry that it may be carpal tunnel syndrome, visit Dr. Avery Arora at one of his southeast Michigan offices located in West Bloomfield, Warren, Macomb Township, or Howell.