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Ask a Scientist: I Think I Have Carpal Tunnel—What Do I Do?

| July 19th, 2013
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Ask a Scientist: I Think I Have Carpal TunnelWhat Do I Do?

The Scientist: Rob DeStefano, a chiropractor and muscle specialist in New York and New Jersey.

The Answer: If you work at a desk, mousing and typing all day long, and have pain in your hand, wrist or arm, you may worry that you are developing carpal tunnel syndrome. That could be the case—but it probably isn’t.

Carpal tunnel is often loosely (and erroneously) used to describe any tingling or pain in the hand. It’s really much more specific than that. The carpal tunnel is an actual tunnel that goes from your arm into your wrist, and through which run finger tendons and a nerve called the median nerve. One part of the tunnel’s bottom edge is formed by the transverse carpal ligament. When that becomes injured, it swells, trapping and pressing on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel, causing pain (bad enough to wake you up at night), numbness, and at times weakness in the thumb, index finger and middle finger. You might even notice that those muscles appear atrophied, or smaller than their counterparts on the other hand. 

If that sounds like you, you could have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). If your symptoms don’t quite match, or if you have pain extending beyond the wrist into the arm or elbow, it’s not CTS, but may be tendinitis, general pain from putting pressure on the carpal tunnel directly, or a nerve entrapment elsewhere, like your neck, shoulder or forearm. Either way, your first step should be to rearrange your position at your desk—raise your chair, maybe, push your keyboard further away, move your mouse to the other side. You may also want to take a rest from typing; try a speech-to-text software to dictate emails. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen will help with the pain.

Leaving CTS untreated could lead to irreversible nerve damage and muscle atrophy, but it would take months (or years) of ignoring it to get to that point. If you can’t knock out the pain by changing your routine, find a manual therapist who can work out the areas along the nerve to relieve the entrapment, or talk to a doctor about surgery to break up the logjam.

MORE ON JOINT HEALTH FROM YOUBEAUTY.COM
How to Sit at Your Desk with Less Pain
Tips for Sore Joints
How Joints Work
Arthritis and Your Brain

 

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