How do you get carpal tunnel?


You can get carpal tunnel from pregnancy, being overweight, hypothyroidism, repetitive motion activities, rheumatoid arthritis, and many more. Carpal tunnel is a very common problem that has been studied extensively. If you ask any hand surgeon what they see the most of, and what the most common surgery they do is, the answers are very likely to be carpal tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel release respectively. Typing a lot incorrectly can give you carpal tunnel syndrome, as can any activity that includes repetitive wrist motions with elements of direct wrist compression. If you type correctly, there should be minimal stress on your carpal tunnel and a much lower chance of you getting carpal tunnel syndrome. As an orthopedic surgeon in Colorado Springs, I see and treat carpal tunnel all the time. But before getting into that, I think it’s worth explaining what the carpal tunnel is.

What is the carpal tunnel?

Your wrist bones are also called carpal bones, and there are eight of them in each of your wrists. Some of these bones form a concave surface (kind of like a small half pipe). Now imagine being in this half pipe of wrist bones but someone put a roof directly on top. Well, at this point it’s more like a tunnel. This is more or less what the carpal tunnel is. All of your tendons that flex your fingers, and a major nerve (the median nerve) that supplies some of the muscles and much of the sensation to your hand, need to travel through this tunnel in order to make it to the hand. Now imagine all these tendons and nerves are traveling through this tunnel, but that the roof started to cave in. Now all of the tendons and nerves are smushed against each other and the nerve is starting to complain. 

How do I know if I have carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the main nerve that travels through the carpal tunnel to the hand is compressed and irritated. This causes numbness and tingling in the whole hand except for the pinky finger and half of the ring finger. It the nerve is compressed for a long time, some of the muscles that move the thumb will start to atrophy. If you wake up at night and have to shake out your hands, or you can’t feel the tips of your fingers then you might have carpal tunnel syndrome. In some cases, your doctor will do nerve conduction studies that can definitely tell you if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or not. Most of the time, this test is used to determine how bad the compression is, rather than to arrive at a diagnosis.

What can I do about my carpal tunnel syndrome?

The size of the carpal tunnel is largest when your wrist is neutral, and gets smaller when you flex or extend your wrist. This is not so much of a problem, until you go to sleep and curl your wrists in. Buying an over the counter carpal tunnel brace to be worn at night is a good way to get your wrist to calm down. This is the first thing that i recommend to my patients to my patients with carpal tunnel syndrome in Colorado Springs. When you type on a keyboard, you want to make sure that your wrists are in a neutral position and comfortably floating above the keys. Do not type while resting your wrist on the wrist rest. The wrist rests should only be used to rest your wrist when you are not typing. Physical therapy for nerve gliding can also be helpful in some cases. Some doctors will give a steroid injection into the carpal tunnel. While this may give some relief, it usually only provides lasting relief about 20% of the time. Lastly, if all else fails, your orthopedic doctor can do a carpal tunnel release which essentially cuts the roof open of the carpal tunnel (transverse carpal ligament). As far as surgeries go, this is one of the best ones out there in terms of how good it works, and how minimally invasive it is.

I hope I was able to answer your questions about how you get carpal tunnel. If you would like me to treat your carpal tunnel syndrome, contact us below to make an appointment if you are in the Colorado Springs area. I also am available for virtual consults. 

-Written by Dr. Daniel Paull

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