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Do You Experience Wrist Pain? How Do You Know if it’s Carpal Tunnel

Have you been experiencing pain in your hand, especially in the thumb, index finger and middle finger area?  Or maybe a fuzzy feeling or pins and needles and/or numbness in the same described area?

wrist pain
Image by FreeImages under FreeImages.com Content Licence

These are all symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?  Carpal tunnel syndrome is a problem where one of the nerves (the median nerve) that feeds the hand, becomes irritated and inflamed.  This inflammation of the median nerve in the wrist area results in swelling of the tissue surrounding the median nerve.  Because there is very little space in the area where the median nerve passes through the wrist, swelling in this area causes pressure on the median nerve.  This pressure on the median nerve in turn causes your symptoms of pain, pins and needles and numbness in the thumb, ring finger and index finger and the area in the palm just below it.

carpal tunnel syndrome
“Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” by Bruce Blaus under licence CC BY 3.0

Inflammation of the median nerve is normally due to overuse of the hand, and this condition is also known as repetitive strain injury or RSI.  Office workers and factor workers are both at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

In office workers,  RSI/carpal tunnel syndrome is quite a common injury.  Not quite as common as neck pain or lower back pain (read my post on 4 computer positions that cause neck pain) but quite common nonetheless.

One of the reasons office workers end up with RSI/carpal tunnel syndrome is due to excessive use of the computer mouse.  Strangely enough, too much typing is not associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.  Another reason office workers are susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome is due to pressure on the underside of their wrist.  People who use mouse pads place themselves at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to the pressure they place on their wrist when they rest their wrists on their mouse pad.  This is slightly ironic, since the mouse pad was developed to help with carpal tunnel syndrome.  Research has shown though, that mouse pads actually increase the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome rather than reducing it.  So, please throw your mouse pad away!

Factory workers are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to excessive hand use, particularly in activities that cause them to bend their wrists, such as jobs that involve repetitively folding boxes all day.

Sometimes, carpal tunnel syndrome can also be due to mechanical compression that occurs as a result of scarring in the area from a wrist injury.  Injuries result in inflammation, and inflammation always creates scarring in the inflamed area.

One of the reasons it’s always important to get physiotherapy when you have an injury, is because your physiotherapist will help to reduce secondary complications that in themselves can cause problems for you down the line, such as the scarring mentioned above.  Your physiotherapist has many many years of training and specialising in injury management (Find a Physio near you).

How do you test whether you may or may not have carpal tunnel syndrome?  Simply bend your wrist forwards (fingers and hand moving palm downwards towards the forearm) and sustain that position for a few moments (about a minute).  If your symptoms appear or increase, you likely have carpal tunnel syndrome.  If you go see a specialist (e.g. a neurosurgeon/neurologist), they may do a nerve conduction test to see if the nerve is functioning properly and to assist in diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome.  Ensure that you also go see your physiotherapist for your rehabilitation.  Physios work hand in hand with your specialists to help get you back to normal as fast as possible.