Dr. Dollinger: Carpal Tunnel

You’re currently sitting at a computer or laptop, perhaps even holding a handheld device, wondering if your job or ‘connected’ lifestyle is putting you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Perhaps you’ve done a lot of typing today and you’re curious about using one of those ergonomic keyboards. Well with my experience and research as an orthopedic surgeon for Arnot Health, I can assure you that there are no good studies to support simple, repetitive motion as a cause for carpal tunnel. I found an article in the NY Times that helps weigh the evidence against these claims.

It may help to understand that although the symptoms appear in your hand and fingers, this syndrome happens in your wrist where there are nine tendons and one nerve all passing through the same canal, or “tunnel.” Since there’s already a limited amount of space in this area, any swelling or inflammation can put you at risk for numbness and pain, the primary symptoms of carpal tunnel. Simple typing or easy repetitive motion would not cause swelling on its own.

Before I diagnose carpal tunnel, I like to get to know my patients a little better to make sure the pain and numbness is not related to a nerve problem somewhere else in the body. I will also perform an electromyogram, or EMG, which is a test with small needles to determine the reaction time of the nerve in your wrist. A slower reaction time is a good indicator of the carpal tunnel.

If it’s determined that you do have carpal tunnel, there are several treatment options:

  • braces or splints to provide support and rest for the wrist
  • inflammatory medicine to reduce swelling and pressure
  • cortisone injection for temporary relief
  • surgery to release the swollen tissue and provide more room within the joint

Sometimes the symptoms can go away by simply reducing the triggers that can cause pain. For example, women who are pregnant may experience discomfort until childbirth, when joint swelling goes away. Obesity may cause pain or numbness until weight-loss occurs.

And if your job really does put you at risk by causing stress or constant vibration on your hands and wrists, it’s important to try to rotate your responsibilities from time to time and give yourself a chance to rest and recover.

If you’d like more information, or want to schedule an appointment, click here to find my contact information listed in the Arnot Health provider directory. And please feel free to email me directly (bdollinger@aomc.org) or comment below with any thoughts and questions.

Have a great day,

Dr. Beth Dollinger

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