CARPAL TUNNEL: When traffic backs up at the wrist


Chronic, lingering wrist pain that causes discomfort for daily living activities may be attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). When pain, tingling, and/or numbness is felt in some of the fingers, there can be nerve compression. This uncomfortable feeling can be attributed to the median nerve. This nerve runs down the arm, through the wrist, and then to the fingers. The route the nerve takes is through the carpal “tunnel”. Movement of all fingers (except the pinky) are controlled by this very nerve. When swelling occurs, the “tunnel” becomes narrowed. There are about 200,000 cases of CTS per year in the U.S. which correlates with our excessive nature.


We live in a world of repetition. Our hands are a vital part of many actions that we take. Most tasks require our hands, fingers, and wrists. We write, type, put our shoes on, open doors, eat, and this list of hand work could go on and on. These are the very repetitive movements that can lead to CTS but other culprits include pregnancy (but it can go away), obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and hypothyroidism. Due to these conditions, the wrists are being asked to work under excess weight conditions or through hormonal imbalances that affect joint motion. It is more commonly found among women, possibly because the “tunnel” is naturally smaller. Certain jobs that have repetitive functions also increase the likelihood of CTS. These might include jobs such as a hair dresser, cashier, musician, baker, or someone in an assembly line who does the same movement over and over.


When early detection is possible, a person might feel burning, itching, or numbness in their palm or fingers. Your fingers might even fall asleep. This pain can travel up to the shoulder. If the symptoms increase you might lose your grip. Eventually strength in the wrist decreases.


There are a couple tests for CTS. Besides a doctor’s general inspection of your wrist mobility, you can have a test called EMG-NCV done. This measures the degree of the median nerve function. Upon diagnosis a doctor might tell you to keep the wrist immobile. Using a splint can help lessen the pressure on the median nerve. This is basically helping that nerve rest. Medications are available to help with the inflammation. Steroid shots can be done. Worst case scenario is surgery, but this can be done to correct the problem.

Even a teacher who grades paper after paper can experience carpal tunnel syndrome. We don’t realize how much we do and how many times we do these tasks, until suddenly they are painful. CTS doesn’t happen overnight, it is the over and over use. Years later we might feel the side. Like most other elements of life, moderation is key. Take breaks and watch your form. Moderate your repeat functions. Keep the tunnel open…. not backed up with traffic that leads to frustration and lack of movement.

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Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has an M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, is a current candidate for her Doctorate in Health & Human Performance, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.