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We often feel aches and pains in our hands from too much typing or repetitive motion.
Many of us worry that it might be the start of carpal tunnel syndrome, but according to David Shapiro, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, many common hand ailments are easily mistaken for carpal tunnel.
He said the condition is common, but it’s not the only condition that can impact our hands.
“Not every hand ailment is carpal tunnel syndrome,” said Dr. Shapiro. “Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very specific problem; mainly the pinched median nerve in the wrist. Other aches and pains are actually not carpal tunnel syndrome and need to be managed differently.”
Dr. Shapiro said there are several myths about what carpal tunnel syndrome is and what causes it.
One common myth, for instance, is that it’s caused by typing or using a keyboard. He said there is now compelling data that this isn’t the case.
Classic symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling in the fingers at night and while talking on the phone or holding a newspaper – not the typical aches and pains we get from repetitive motions.
And while repetitive activities like typing and texting won’t cause carpal tunnel, Dr. Shapiro said they can make the symptoms more noticeable.
As far as the actual cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, he said no one really knows for sure, but there are some risk factors that can make it more likely to develop.
Carpal tunnel is more common in women than men, by about three to one. It’s also more common during times of hormonal change – particularly during pregnancy and menopause. People who are obese, sedentary, and those who smoke are also more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel.
The good news is that in milder cases, Dr. Shapiro said it can be treated by using a wrist splint at night and taking either over the counter anti-inflammatory medication or acetaminophen if painful.
“Mild carpal-tunnel syndrome will frequently go away on its own,” said Dr. Shapiro. “You wear the splint at night for a few weeks, and very often the symptoms just resolve. Sometimes a cortisone injection into the carpal tunnel can be helpful as well.”
For more serious cases of carpal tunnel, Dr. Shapiro said surgery is often recommended. He says it’s key, however, to make sure that surgery is performed before the carpal tunnel progresses to the point where it produces round-the-clock numbness, in which case it will not resolve completely even after surgery.
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