If you have a job that involves repetitive movements of your hand and wrist, you might be concerned about having developed carpal tunnel syndrome at work. Maybe you've even experienced some telltale signs, such as pain, numbness and tingling. Any kind of joint pain can become debilitating or disruptive to daily life.
If you think your job or some other activity might be contributing to carpal tunnel syndrome, what should you do? Fortunately, there are ways to determine whether you are at risk, and treatments available.
What kind of workers are at risk?
People employed in certain industries may be more at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the condition is common in certain industries:
- Fish packing
- Other assembly line work
The causes of carpal tunnel syndrome may include work stress or frequent use of tools that vibrate, which may be part of your job. Trauma or injury, such as a break or fracture, can also be a factor.
Carpal tunnel syndrome almost exclusively occurs among adults. Women more commonly develop the condition than men—at a rate of three times more, according to the institute. Having some other medical conditions—such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis—could make you more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Often your dominant hand will develop symptoms first or be the site on your body with the most pain. The pain, numbness or tingling may even manifest itself as a burning sensation or feel like swelling. Symptoms may affect the hand, wrist or forearm.
What exactly is the carpal tunnel? Inside the wrist, small bones called carpal bones surround a channel about an inch wide on the bottom and sides, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This is the carpal tunnel. Above this tunnel runs a strong band of connective tissue called the transverse carpal ligament.
The carpal tunnel is a pathway for the median nerve and flexor tendons. If anything causes the tunnel to narrow or the tendons to swell, it puts pressure on the median nerve. Pressure on one of the hand's main nerves creates the uncomfortable—and often painful and debilitating—symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
How can pain and discomfort be reduced?
If you suspect you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome at work, you may be concerned about how to get treatment—and how to continue a productive and pain-free worklife. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat the condition.
An orthopedic specialist will need to examine you to determine whether you truly have carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition does share some traits with other conditions, which your specialist will likely rule out using methods like a physical examination, electrical testing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. X-rays may used to rule out a fracture.
Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will prescribe a course of treatment. Non-surgical and surgical options exist. Your doctor may recommend:
- Using a splint overnight
- Minimizing or breaking up activities that aggravate symptoms
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) or other over-the counter medications for pain management
- Undergoing a corticosteroid—or cortisone—shot
Some holistic therapies like yoga may also help, according to the Institute of Neurological Disorders.
In cases where nonoperative treatment fails to relieve pain, surgery may be recommended. If you ultimately need to have surgery, your job duties may have to be adjusted for a period of time during recovery or even permanently. Your orthopedic specialist will help you determine a plan.
If you have pain in your hand and wrist, it's advisable to learn about carpal tunnel syndrome causes and treatments. Consult an orthopedic doctor about your symptoms and get on the road to recovery before suffering at your job another day.