Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is by far the most frequent cause of a nerve entrapment in the extremities. Despite it being such a common complaint (estimated to affect 1 in 1,000 American adults), CTS can be a difficult condition to manage. Here are three reasons why…
1) Multifactorial. While activities (a job or hobby) that involve fast, repetitive movements, firm gripping requirements, and no rest time are commonly associated with CTS, there can be (and often are) additional risk factors involved that each need to be address. For example, hormonal changes in the body can increase swelling or water retention, which can also place pressure on the median nerve. Older adults appear to be at greater risk than young adults. There are also health conditions, like obesity and diabetes, that are linked to an elevated risk for CTS. The condition can also run in families due to shared environmental factors, genetics, or both.
2) Slow onset. While major trauma—like a wrist fracture—can lead to immediate symptoms, most cases of CTS come on very gradually. At first, it may only be a slight tingling here and there. But over weeks, months, or even years, the signs and symptoms can increase in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration to the point of being almost constant. Only at this point do many patients seek treatment, and by this time, it may be difficult to reverse. Even if a complete resolution is possible, it can take a lot longer than it would for a patient with new-onset, mild symptoms.
3) Hesitancy. Because CTS is often associated with work-related activities, an employee experiencing pain, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in the hand/s and wrist/s may avoid reporting the injury for fear of losing a job or being ridiculed by co-workers, employers, supervisors, etc. It’s not unusual to “hide” the symptoms from others for a long time, often to the point of CTS becoming chronic.
The good news is that by managing risk factors for the condition (more breaks, modifying movements, and using tools that provide less stress on the wrist, reducing inflammation in the body, maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar levels, for example), one can reduce their risk for the condition. When symptoms manifest, it’s important to seek care right away (of which chiropractic care is a great option) when the odds for a successful outcome are greatest.