It’s easy to take our hands, fingers and wrists for granted. But they are hard to ignore when the tingling, burning pain of carpal tunnel syndrome sets in.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 3 percent of adults in the United States will experience carpal tunnel syndrome. Women are three times as likely as men to get it, according to the National Institutes of Health, with peak prevalence occurring at age 55.
But as widespread as it is, it’s also often misunderstood. Dr. Danny Park, a neurologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital, shared with us some of the common myths and facts surrounding carpal tunnel syndrome:
1. Myth: Carpal tunnel syndrome only affects the wrist and hand.
Fact: Severe carpal tunnel pain can radiate from points as high as the neck, down into the shoulder and arm and into the whole hand. It can be difficult to localize where the tingling is coming from.
The syndrome is the result of pressure and injury to the median nerve, which runs from the forearm through the wrist and hand. It’s a fibrous tissue, and with repeated trauma, it can become even more thick and fibrous, which leads to inflammation and damage.
2. Myth: Carpal tunnel is caused by computer keyboards and piano keyboards.
Fact: Carpal tunnel comes from any number of repetitive motions that place constant pressure on the wrist, including bicycle riding, motorcycle riding, tennis and golf. Many times, there are no predisposing factors; it simply develops over time as any one motion is repeated.
3. Myth: You can only feel carpal tunnel while using your wrists and hands.
Fact: Carpal tunnel patients often wake up in the middle of the night with hand numbness because of compression of the nerve. They can bring back feeling to the hand by running it under warm water and elevating and extending the wrist.
4. Myth: The damage is permanent.
Fact: If caught early enough and the proper methods are taken, the damage can be reversible to a point. In time, however, carpal tunnel can do some serious, permanent damage to the hand, fingers and thumbs.
5. Myth: Surgery is the only option.
Fact: Actually there are conservative steps that can be taken that don’t involve surgery. One step is a wrist brace. This works by extending the wrist so it’s not straight forward, but rather extended upward or downward. That tends to relieve some of the carpal tunnel pressure. Because the brace can be bulky, patients usually wear them at night, when they have more of a tendency to flex the wrist.
Park said it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect you might have carpal tunnel syndrome. Your physician can help you lessen and possibly even reverse the damage.