What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a neuropathy, which simply means injury to a nerve – in this case, the Median nerve which starts in your neck and runs down your arm into your hand. Nerves send signals from your brain to tell specific muscles to work, sending signals from the skin to the brain, so you know where you have been touched.
An injury to a nerve causes dysfunction in these transmissions, which can lead to altered sensation and muscle weakness. With CTS, this altered sensation can be felt as tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and the thumb side of your ring finger, whilst weakness can be exhibited by a loss of muscle bulk in the fleshy thumb side of the palm of your hand, as well as hand weakness and loss of manual dexterity.
The carpal tunnel itself is a small space in the wrist where the Median nerve enters the hand. This tunnel is made of bones and ligaments; however, it is not just the nerve that sits in this tunnel, various tendons which attach to the forearm muscles are in this area too. The Median nerve can become aggravated or entrapped, usually due to either an aggravation of the tendons in the carpal tunnel or because the carpal tunnel itself narrows.
Typically, CTS affects those who regularly use their hands and wrists in repetitive tasks such as typing, drilling, sanding etc, although other factors such as pregnancy and rheumatoid arthritis can also make you more susceptible.
What to do if we have CTS?
If you experience pain, numbness or altered sensation in the thumb side of the hand and wrist, which may start off as being quite intermittent, then it is important to get it looked at by a Physiotherapist. They should be able to determine if your condition is CTS or whether or not it could be a different nerve condition which may require treatment. CTS can benefit from Physiotherapy intervention in mild to moderate cases which can involve activity modification, exercise, manual therapy, electrotherapy and splinting, as well as recommending referrals in certain cases.
Early intervention leading to appropriate treatment and referrals where required can provide better long-term outcomes for patients, whilst ignoring this condition could sadly lead to increased long-term damage.
If you have any concerns regarding nerve damage or you would like some advice, reach out to our team of experts using our FREE Ask A Physio service online.