Due to the demand that people place on their hands and wrists, CTS is a common condition that affects 1 in 20 Americans. What a lot of people don’t know that is physical therapy treatment can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, and arm without the need for surgery – yay!
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition of the wrist and hand that in some cases can even affect the use of the whole arm. What causes the condition is pressure on the nerve at the base of the palm (median nerve).
The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel – about the width of your thumb -l on the palm side of your wrist. The tunnel protects the median nerve and the tendons that bend your fingers. Putting Pressure on the nerve can cause pain and weakness in your wrist and hand and numbness or tingling in some of your fingers. This pressure is caused by crowding or irritation of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel – which is what leads to CTS.
CTS is common in professions such as assembly-line work, particularly meat packing; and jobs requiring the use of hand tools, especially tools that vibrate. One thing you might not know is that excessive keyboard and computer use is often associated with CTS, but those performing assembly line work are 3 times more likely to develop CTS. In addition there are also some leisure activities that can create CTS, such as sewing, sports such as racquetball and handball, and playing string instruments such as the violin.
Signs and Symptoms
CTS usually starts gradually, with symptoms such as burning, tingling, “pins and needles,” or numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers. The symptoms are often more noticeable during the night, and individuals report being wakened by the symptoms. As the condition progresses, the symptoms are noticeable during the daytime, and are at their worst when holding items such as a heavy book or a hairbrush. Weakness of the hand and more constant numbness may occur if the pressure on the nerve continues. A lot of sufferers say that they regularly drop objects unexpectedly or have a weakness in your grip.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Physical therapists work closely with other healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat CTS. Symptoms of CTS are typical, and quite often it is possible to diagnose it without extensive testing.
Here are some different tests that are used to diagnose CTS:
– Grip strength of fingers and thumb
– Sensory tests
– Wrist and hand range-of-motion
– Examination of your neck and entire upper extremity to rule out other conditions.
– Wrist flexion test: Your PT will have you push the backs of your hands together for 1 minute. Tingling or numbness in your fingers that occurs within 60 seconds may be an indication of CTS.
– Tinel’s Sign: Your PT will use a reflex hammer or finger to tap over the median nerve at your wrist. Tingling in the thumb and index and middle fingers may indicate CTS.
– Electrical studies and nerve conduction velocity (NCV): These tests determine the transmission of the nerve and the severity of the CTS.
In some cases, your physical therapist may refer you to a physician or other health care professional for additional testing or treatment.
So – that concludes part one of my two part series on CTS. Make sure you check back next week to read part two. In the meantime if you have any questions or want to book an appointment to come in and speak with one of our PTs don’t be shy. Give us a call of fill out the contact form on the site.