Although it might seem that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition born from long hours spent working on a computer keyboard, or any repetitive action, carpal tunnel syndrome actually has numerous causes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway — about as big around as your thumb — located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve to your hand and nine tendons that bend your fingers. Pressure placed on the nerve produces the numbness, pain and, eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fortunately, for most people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, proper treatment usually can relieve the pain and numbness and restore normal use of their wrists and hands.
Gripping the steering wheel, as truckers do, may transfer pressure and vibration to the median nerve in the hand — which may potentially cause CTS.
CTS typically starts gradually with a vague aching in your wrist that can extend to your hand or forearm. Other common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
• Tingling or numbness in your fingers or hand, especially your thumb and index, middle or ring fingers, but not your little finger. This sensation often occurs while holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper or upon awakening. Many people “shake out” their hands to try to relieve their symptoms. As the disorder progresses, the numb feeling may become constant.
• Pain radiating or extending from your wrist up your arm to your shoulder or down into your palm or fingers, especially after forceful or repetitive use. This usually occurs on the palm side of your forearm, and
• A sense of weakness in your hands and a tendency to drop objects.
If you have persistent signs and symptoms that might be due to CTS that interfere with your normal activities — including sleep — see your doctor. If you leave the condition untreated, nerve and muscle damage can occur, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve is a mixed nerve, meaning it has a sensory function and also provides nerve signals to move your muscles (motor function). The median nerve provides sensation to your thumb, index finger, middle finger and the middle-finger side of the ring finger.
Pressure on the nerve can stem from anything that reduces the space for it in the carpal tunnel. Possible causes include:
Other health conditions. Some examples include rheumatoid arthritis, certain hormonal disorders — such as diabetes, thyroid disorders and menopause — fluid retention due to pregnancy, or deposits of amyloid, an abnormal protein produced by cells in bone marrow.
Repetitive use or injury. Repetitive flexing and extending of the tendons in the hands and wrists, particularly when done forcefully and for prolonged periods without rest, also can increase pressure within the carpal tunnel. Injury to your wrist can cause swelling that exerts pressure on the median nerve.
Physical characteristics. It may be that your carpal tunnel is more narrow than average.
If symptoms occur that don’t go away, see a doctor, as there are things that can be done to ease the pain of CTS.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.