Have you ever had pins and needles? Most people have at some point – you sit on your leg for too long and end up with a raging tingle in your foot. It’s painful and annoying, but if you wiggle it around a bit, it goes away after a little while.
But what if it the tingling didn’t go away, or if it kept coming back for no apparent reason?
People with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome experience a nasty tingling in their hand. For some, it comes and goes, for others, it sets in and becomes a constant, irritating companion.
The symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are caused by a nerve in the wrist becoming compressed. There are many theories on causes and contributing factors. There is one causative factor, however, that is commonly mentioned – repetitive activity with the hands.
Anatomy Made Easy
The base of our hand (the part just past the wrist) consists of two rows of small bones. They are known collectively as the carpal bones. The rows of carpal bones fuse together with ligaments to form a small arc (with the apex facing the back of our hand).
A ligament complex then encloses the base of the arc (on the palm side of our hand), and this creates the carpal ‘tunnel’.
The carpal tunnel is a motorway in demand. The tendons that curl the fingers and thumb pass through the tunnel, as well as the median nerve, which supplies sensation to part of the hand, and power to some thumb muscles.
All of these structures are tightly packed into the tunnel, with only just enough room to move.
What Goes Wrong
If the hand is used a lot, the tendons that move the fingers can become swollen where they pass through the carpal tunnel. Because the tunnel is boundaried by the carpal bones and a stiff ligament, there is no way for the tunnel to grow or expand to accommodate the extra bulk from swelling. The enlarged tendons therefore squash or ‘implode’ the softest structure in the carpal tunnel. The softest structure happens to be the median nerve. It is the ‘squashing’ of the median nerve that causes the tingling, and weakness in some of the thumb muscles.
As the swelling in the tendons settles with rest, the nerve decompresses, and the symptoms often go away.
In pregnancy, a woman often has more fluid in her system, and this can cause carpal tunnel symptoms, even with no change in hand use.
For many, the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are worst at night time, when inflammation from the days activities can cause swelling, or fluid pools in the limbs.
Take Action Before You Break
The avoidance of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome revolves largely around managing repetitive loads. Ensure that the ergonomics of your repetitive activities are as ideal as possible. Then, break up your repetitive activity as much as possible, by regularly taking breaks or changing activities.
Ensure that the tendons that pass through your Carpal Tunnel are flexible and mobile, by performing a simple stretch.
Injury Proof Toolkit
1) Change Your Environment
If you work on a computer, make sure it is set up well.
- Your keyboard should be at elbow height
- If your computer mouse is too low, bring it up to elbow height, and make sure it glides properly and has room to move
2) Change Your Habits
- Take at least 10 minutes break for every hour of repetitive activity, for no more than 4 hours a day, 5 days a week.
3) Add This Exercise
1. Take one arm out in front of you, palm up
2. Using the other hand, pull the fingers and hand back and down
3. You should feel a stretch in your wrist or forearm
4. Hold for 20 seconds on each arm