It’s a specter all those who type for a living have heard of: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. We associate it with sitcoms featuring assistants rubbing their hands ruefully and with graduate students who procrastinated on their term paper until the last available minute. But what, exactly, is carpal tunnel syndrome?
And, perhaps more importantly — if we have it, what do we do about it? Let’s delve into this common ailment and learn what we can do to make it go away when it strikes us.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition which affects the hand after prolonged pressure on the medial nerve — a spot in your wrist. It commonly affects typists and other people who do repetitive motions with their hands.
The ‘carpal tunnel’ mentioned in the moniker is the small cave-like tunnel formation formed by your carpal bones in your hand. They surround the medial nerve, which is why the syndrome got named after this small bone structure.
The older you get, the more likely you are to get carpal tunnel syndrome, as it rarely affects anyone under the age of twenty. Let’s talk, next, about a few ways to heal carpal tunnel syndrome once it strikes.
You’ll know you have carpal tunnel syndrome if your hands begin to be numb at evening or overnight, and you have tingling in your hands and your fingers. That’s just the beginning stages, though. If left unchecked, the numbness and tingling and pain can extend to all hours.
Eventually, you will be unable to use your hands for things like grasping small objects, pinching, and typing. At the end of the disease, in its most severe form, the muscles in your hand will atrophy and you won’t be able to use it at its full functionality.
There are two main tiers of treatment: non-surgical and surgical.
- Non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include wrist splints (generally worn at night) and anti-inflammatory drugs or diet changes.
- Surgical treatments will involve anesthesia and a long recovery period, so it’s best to focus on non-surgical treatments and prevention, first.
If you don’t want to face surgery or pain, there may be a few things you can do to stop carpal tunnel syndrome from happening (or, if the numbness has already set in, stop it from progressing further, and let it heal naturally).
- Optimize your work set up (height of chair, placement of keyboard) so that your wrists are always supported.
- Change your wrist position often when doing routine, repetitive hand activities.
- Keep your wrists as straight as possible, as often as you can (i.e., while sleeping)
- Take breaks often.
In this as in many other areas of life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take care of your wrists so that you don’t have to heal them later!