Although carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women, it affects both sexes and is most commonly seen in people between the ages of 30 and 60. Symptoms begin gradually and are characterized by tingling, itching or numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers .
A burning sensation is also common and swelling may occur. Symptoms usually appear first in the thumb and forefinger, but as time moves on, symptoms may spread to the wrist and even forearm. Decreased grip strength may occur, and if left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome could cause permanent damage to the muscles at the base of the thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the band that surrounds it in the wrist compresses the median nerve, which is the nerve that runs from hand to forearm. The nerve is responsible for the sensations that the palm, fingers and thumb feel, and for sending signals that allow the small muscles of the fingers and thumb to move.
If the "tunnel" that the nerve passes through through the forearm to hand becomes irritated or swollen, the nerve may be squeezed causing pain, weakness or numbness. It's thought that repetitive or forceful movements of the hand and wrist cause carpal tunnel syndrome, but there's little data to prove this.
It is known, however, that people performing jobs in assembly lines such as in manufacturing, sewing, and meat, poultry and fish packing are more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome.
A 2001 studied performed by the Mayo Clinic found that heavy computer use (more than 7 hours a day) was not found to increase a person's risk, but many office workers would challenge those findings.
While working, it's recommended that workers do stretching exercises that stretch the arms, wrists and hands, take breaks and wear splints or braces on the wrists to keep them in their natural position.
Using ergonomically designed workstations and computer keyboards along with wrist pads can help quite a bit. Using relaxation techniques during the workday to release tension in the entire body is also helpful.
If used early, carpel tunnel syndrome is easily treated. If you feel any abnormal sensations in your hand or wrist, you should consult with your doctor immediately. The sooner it's diagnosed the easier it is to treat.
Often, rest and wearing a wrist brace will significantly diminish discomfort and allow the wrist to heal. Vitamin B supplements are reported to work wonders for carpal tunnel sufferers.
Ice packs can help reduce swelling and anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes used as well. Physical therapy and acupuncture are often used with good results. In certain cases, cortisone injections or surgery may be necessary, but this is usually only when the carpal tunnel syndrome is quite advanced.
The key to keeping carpal tunnel syndrome at bay is prevention with stretching, resting and use of good ergonomic tools and practices. If you develop symptoms, see your healthcare professional immediately to begin a rehabilitation plan. While not life threatening, carpal tunnel syndrome is an irritant at best and at worst can be disabling, so do not ignore the signs.