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Sun, Dec. 15

Prevent painful carpal tunnel syndrome with simple strategies

If you're like most people, you associate carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) with young people who spend hours playing video games or tapping on their computer keyboards. Surprisingly, CTS - a painful progressive condition caused by the compression of a key nerve in the wrist - is most frequent among people between the ages of 45 and 60. In fact, only 10 percent of people with CTS are under the age of 31. Additionally, women are three times as likely as men to develop CTS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

What are the signs of CTS? Typically, it begins gradually with a vague aching in the wrist that can extend to the hand or forearm. People with CTS may experience tingling or numbness in their fingers or hands. This sensation can occur most any time: while gripping a steering wheel, holding a phone or turning the pages of a newspaper, or upon awakening. As the condition progresses, the numb feeling may become constant. Some people with CTS report pain that radiates from the wrist up the arm, particularly after repetitive use, as well as a weak sensation in their hands and a tendency to drop objects.

While there are no proven strategies to prevent CTS, you may protect your hands from a variety of ailments by:

• Reducing your force and relaxing your grip. Most people use more force than is necessary to perform many tasks involving their hands.

• Taking frequent breaks. Give your hands and wrists a break by gently stretching and bending them. If possible, alternate tasks.

• Watching your form. Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. A relaxed middle position is best. If you use a keyboard, keep it at elbow height or slightly lower.

• Improving your posture. Incorrect posture my cause your shoulders to roll forward. When your shoulders are in this position, your neck and shoulder muscles are shortened, compressing nerves in your neck. This can affect your wrists, fingers and hands.

• Keeping your hands warm. You are more likely to develop hand pain and stiffness if you work in a cold environment.

If you are diagnosed with CTS, your physician may recommend a splint to hold your wrist as you sleep. Splinting is most likely to help if you have had only mild to moderate symptoms for less than 10 months. Also, your doctor may inject your carpal tunnel with a corticosteroid, such as cortisone, to relieve pain. Corticosteroids decrease inflammation, which relieves pressure on the median nerve.

If the pain or numbness of CTS persists more than six months, your physician may recommend surgery to cut the ligament pressing on your nerve. At times, surgery can be done using an endoscope, a telescope-like device with a tiny camera attached to it that allows your doctor to see inside your carpal tunnel and perform the surgery through small incisions in your hand or wrist. In other cases, surgery involves making a larger incision in the palm of your hand over the carpal tunnel and releasing the nerve.

Catching CTS early is important. If you believe you have the symptoms of CTS, a trip to the physician is the best idea, hands down.

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