I wrote a research paper on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) for massage school and am posting an abbreviated version of my findings.
CTS is a progressive peripheral entrapment of the median nerve by the transverse carpal ligament, causing sharp, shocking pain and/or numbing. Common symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness in the thumb, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and occasionally the 4th finger.
- Pain radiating or extending from the wrist up the arm to the shoulder or down into the palm or fingers, especially after forceful or repetitive use.
- A sense of weakness in the hands and a tendency to drop objects.
- It is often difficult to identify a single cause of CTS. The Mayo Clinic (2011) reported that a combination of risk factors generally appear to contribute to the development of the condition. While these factors alone do not cause carpal tunnel syndrome, they may increase the chances of developing or aggravating the condition. These factors include:
- Anatomic factors. Wrist fracture or dislocation can alter the space within the carpal tunnel and create pressure on the median nerve. Also, it is more common in women, possibly because the carpal tunnel area is relatively smaller than in men.
- Nerve-damaging conditions. Certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and alcoholism, increase the risk of nerve damage, including damage to the median nerve.
- Inflammatory conditions. Illnesses that are characterized by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or an infection, can affect the tendons in the wrist and create pressure on the median nerve.
- Alterations in the balance of body fluids. Certain conditions such as pregnancy, menopause, obesity, thyroid disorders and kidney failure can affect the level of fluids in the body. Fluid retention may increase pressure within the carpal tunnel, irritating the median nerve.
- Workplace factors. Working with vibrating tools or in an assembly-line type of setting which requires prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist may create harmful pressure on the median nerve, or worsen existing nerve damage. The Department of Rehabilitation Staff from The Brigham & Women’s Hospital (Brigham & Women’s Hospital, 2007) points out that scientific evidence is conflicting and that workplace factors haven’t been established as direct causes of CTS. There is little evidence to support extensive computer use as a risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome, although it may cause a different form of hand pain.