How often do you use your hands in a day? Our hands are imperative to many of our daily activities; chances are you are using them right now to navigate the Internet. For seniors living at home, healthy hands and wrists allow them to enjoy their independence. If a senior is suffering from pain or weakness in their hands, the culprit may be carpal tunnel syndrome. Keep reading to learn the symptoms, causes and treatments of this common condition.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a small passageway in the hand. The median nerve, which sends sensory information to the fingers, runs through the carpal tunnel. When tendons and ligaments in the carpal tunnel become swollen, they put pressure on the median nerve and may cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often begin gradually and become worse over time. The main symptom is pain in the palm, wrist or forearm, especially along the side with the thumb. These areas also experience numbness, burning or tingling. If a senior has weak hands or trouble gripping items, they may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
It is important to differentiate between carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, which is a common condition causing pain in the hand, wrist and forearm. The median nerve does not provide sensory information to the pinky or half of the ring finger, which means carpal tunnel syndrome does not affect these areas. Arthritis typically affects every finger. Additionally, the two conditions present slightly different symptoms. Numbness and tingling are exclusive to carpal tunnel syndrome, whereas swelling is exclusive to arthritis.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
It is difficult to identify the exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common trigger is repetitive movements, such as writing or using a computer mouse. Frequent computer usage is becoming more common amongst seniors, which may lead to an increase in carpal tunnel syndrome. Additional causes include fracturing a wrist or being born with a small carpal tunnel. Seniors who suffer from diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, as do women.
How do you treat carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome must be addressed immediately so the symptoms do not worsen. Seniors should visit a health care professional, such as a physician or physiotherapist, to receive an exact diagnosis and treatment plan. Once diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, seniors are encouraged to keep their wrists straight, often by wearing a splint. Many people bend their wrists when they sleep, which can apply pressure on the median nerve. Seniors should also reduce repetitive hand movements, such as writing or using a computer. Caregivers can help by opening jars, cutting food and performing other activities that require a strong grip.
Seniors and caregivers can work together to adjust the behaviours that trigger carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, changing the height of a senior’s computer so they can use it without bending their wrists. Yoga and physiotherapy are also helpful for strengthening the hand muscles and reducing pain. If the symptoms persist longer than six months, surgery may be required. During carpal tunnel surgery, tissue in the wrist is cut to diminish pressure on the median nerve. Seniors typically make a full recovery, but increased assistance from a caregiver may be necessary for several weeks after the operation.
We hope seniors and caregivers feel prepared to identify and treat carpal tunnel syndrome. Healthy hands allow seniors to embrace their independence and partake in many of their favourite activities. If you have any additional questions about carpal tunnel syndrome or other hand ailments, please share them with us in the comments.