Numbness and mild tingling in the fingers – specifically the thumb, index and middle fingers – at night and first thing in the morning are among early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a common condition caused by repetitive activities that stress the hand and wrist.
You may also experience pain and weakness in your hand and wrist, and an electric shock-like sensation which can travel up your arm.
Working long hours on a computer and prolonged use of vibrating/power tools can put pressure on the median nerve which passes through the carpal tunnel, a narrow channel in the wrist, on its way from the forearm to the hand.
In mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms may come and go, while in more advanced cases, symptoms may be persistent and you may find it difficult to hold a small object or a book, grasp a steering wheel or use a computer keyboard.
At a severe stage, the muscles at the base of your thumb may shrink and your hand may become extremely weak and lose all sensation.
Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome
These factors increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome:
heredity factors leave you with smaller carpal tunnels
prior wrist fracture or dislocation
chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism or diabetes
Women, particularly pregnant women, have a greater risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. However, the condition typically resolves on its own post-pregnancy.
Diagnosing and treating carpal tunnel
If you experience persistent symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, consult a doctor who will carry out a thorough physical examination, and may also do a nerve conduction study and an ultrasound to diagnose the problem.
Treatment for mild cases may include minimising wrist movements and avoiding hand-intensive activities, and wearing a wrist splint at night. Anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs and corticosteroid injections may help to relieve the pain.
For advanced cases, surgical procedures such as endoscopic surgery or open carpal tunnel release surgery may be recommended to create space in the carpal tunnel so as to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
You can avoid surgery if the condition is diagnosed early.
If you do hand-intensive work, minimise the stress on your fingers and wrist by taking the following steps:
Take frequent breaks and gently stretch your hand and wrist at regular intervals
Avoid bending your wrist sharply
Choose a computer mouse that feels comfortable and doesn't strain your wrist
Keep your hands warm if you are in a cold environment
Improve your posture
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