Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a hand and wrist condition caused by inflammation of the median nerve, causing symptoms such as numbness, burning pain and tingling. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over 8 million Americans are currently experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s also often misunderstood as it can be difficult to heal and has led to many misconceptions about this condition. Therefore, it becomes very important to get the facts behind the following common myths surrounding this condition.
CTS affects only the wrist and hand
Although the wrist and hand are the primary sources of pain, the symptoms can also extend to the neck, shoulders and arms. It can become difficult to pinpoint where the ‘tingling’ is coming from because the median nerve, the source of pain and numbness, runs through the palm of the hand to the forearm. Carpel tunnel patients who experience hand numbness can bring back feeling to their hand, by running it under warm water and keeping their wrist elevated for a while.
Excessive typing is the number 1 cause behind CTS
The effects of typing on an individual’s wrists are still a source of debate among the medical community, but it is a well known fact that carpal tunnel syndrome is usually caused by both ‘high force’ and ‘high repetition’ tasks over a prolonged time period. Typing is a ‘high repetition but low force’ activity, and hence is not a potential risk factor. Mayo Clinic’s study in 2001 revealed that heavy computer use (up to 7 hours a day) doesn’t increase one’s risk of developing CTS. Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur from any of the high repetitive motions that place constant pressure on the wrist, such as bicycling, motorcycling, playing tennis or golf.
CTS is related to your job
Many believe that data entry workers are at the greatest risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The truth is that most people who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome have never worked in an office, such as manual laborers. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, there does not exist a causal relationship between specific job duties and CST. Majority of the recent research suggests that certain people are genetically more susceptible to eventually develop CST, regardless of their jobs. Genetic and personal factors that increase chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome are age (chances of CST increases with age), obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy.
Every pain in hands is CTS
While carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause for pain or discomfort in the hands, it causes a characteristic set of symptoms which differentiates it from other conditions, which are arthritis or tendonitis, which can also cause hand pain. There are also certain conditions that are quiet similar to CTS such as de Quervain’s disease, which cause an inflammation at the base of the thumb, or ‘trigger finger’ which causes an inflamed tendon. CTS should be diagnosed by a medical professional.
Men and women are equally prone to develop CTS
Extensive studies show that women are thrice as prone to develop carpal tunnel syndrome as opposed to their male counterparts because the size of the female carpal is smaller, and therefore more vulnerable to swelling and blockage. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSHA) reports while women account for about 45% of all workers, they experience nearly 2/3 of all work-related repetitive strain injuries such as CTS.
CTS is a condition that appeared in the 90s
The term carpal tunnel syndrome might have become extremely popular during the 90s, but it was first described way back in the mid-1800s. The term made major appearances in the years following World War II, and the first surgery for release of the carpal tunnel was done in the 1930s. CTS is a condition that has been well recognized by orthopedic surgeons for over 40 years, and is not a recent phenomenon.
CTS is permanent
Fortunately, most of the carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment. There are a number of conservative as well as radical treatments that are currently being used to treat repetitive strain injuries like CTS, such as wearing wrist braces or splints, to surgery. The best solutions to be considered should combine frequent breaks, job rotation whenever possible and a good stretching program. Rarely, if the condition is severe or if it’s left untreated, nerve and muscle damage in the hands can be permanent. The most common permanent problems are weakened hand muscles and chronic pain.
CTS can be cured with ergonomics
Arranging your activity and work space using ergonomic guidelines, such as specially designed computer keyboards, support pads or changing the height of the work station, can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but not cure the condition. Office ergonomics focus on how a workstation is set up, including the placement of your desk, computer monitor, paperwork, chair and associated tools, such as a computer keyboard and mouse. The same ideas can help you arrange your position right for other day-to-day activities as well.
Surgery is the only option to treat CTS
Drugs are often used to treat swelling, inflammation, and pain in the wrist or hand associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Reducing swelling in the wrist will relieve pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, and relieve carpal tunnel symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonprescription pain relievers, and orally administered diuretics (water pills) can reduce swelling due to CTS. Corticosteroids such as prednisone can be injected directly into the wrist or taken by mouth to relieve pressure on the median nerve and provide immediate, temporary relief to persons with mild or intermittent symptoms. (Caution: Corticosteroids should not be taken without a doctor’s prescription.) Additionally, some studies show that vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supplements may ease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome as well.
CTS surgeries have a 100% success rate
More than 500,000 people in the US undergo release surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome every year. Surgery for CTS is among the most common hand surgeries. In various trials, 70%-90% of the patients who underwent surgery were free of pain afterward. There are various factors that may reduce the chances for success such as having very severe symptoms, performing heavy manual labor, alcohol abuse, poor mental health, diabetes and high blood pressure prior to the surgery.
Recovery from CTS takes several months
For some patients, release surgery relieves carpal tunnel syndrome’s symptoms of numbness and tingling immediately. The bandage can be removed after 48 hours and the hand can be used for very light activities. By two weeks, the sutures can be removed, and there is usually full motion of the fingers and complete relief from the symptoms. Surgeons encourage wearing a wrist brace or splint for the first two weeks after surgery. Returning back to work depends on various factors such as the type of work you need to perform, the type of surgery done and the severity of the condition. Normally, one should be able to return to most activities by 6 weeks.