Carpal tunnel syndrome, a common disorder that affects women three times more often than men, can strike anyone who uses his or her hands vigorously or repetitively—from typists to assembly line workers, mechanics to musicians, gardeners to sports enthusiasts.
In carpal tunnel syndrome, the main nerve to the hand is pinched by swollen tendons in the wrist, leading to pain and numbness. Conditions such as pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems and diabetes also can contribute to compression of the nerve. Women between the ages of 30 and 60 appear to be most vulnerable.
The tip-off that you may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome is a feeling of weakness, burning, pain, tingling or numbness in your hand. The symptoms are typically worse early in the morning and during the night, when they may actually wake you up. You may also find it difficult to pick up small objects or make a fist.
If you experience any of those symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Left untreated, the condition can get worse, and the damage to the nerve can become permanent.
If you’re diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll need to stop or cut back on the activity that’s straining your wrist(s). Using aspirin and applying ice to the area may help. In some cases, cortisone injections may be used to ease symptoms. Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve usually is reserved for individuals who do not respond to conservative measures.
There are a number of ways to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome (see “6 tips for preventing CTS”). Implementing these steps may take a little planning and discipline, but in the long run they may prove well worth the effort.