Skip to main content

New Risks for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There is a lot going on inside your wrist. Packed into that little space are numerous bones, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Nine of those tendons and a large nerve are all together in an even smaller area known as the carpal tunnel. In such close quarters problems can arise. "Any time those tendons become inflamed, or the wrist is flexed or extended for a prolonged period, the pressure within that tight little tunnel goes up," said Shaun Mendenhall, MD, a hand surgeon with University of Utah Health. "That causes compression on the median nerve and potentially nerve damage if left untreated. This is what we call carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)."

Carpal tunnel syndrome can happen to anyone and the causes aren't always clear. Repetitive movements of the fingers, especially with a bend wrist, can aggravate the condition. In the past many people have blamed CTS on activities like typing. In this changing world though, there are many culprits to blame, including playing video games and even taking selfies. "People are trying to take a selfie and they're flexing their wrist for a prolonged period of time trying to get the right shot," said Mendenhall. "That can actually cause carpal tunnel symptoms."

The symptoms of carpal tunnel are mild at first. You may notice numbness or tingling in your thumb, index, or middle finger. This sensation may even go up into your arm and shoulder. You also may experience weakness in your hand that causes you to drop things. When symptoms start to impact your daily life or disrupt your sleep, then it's time to see a doctor.

Most treatments for CTS are easy and non-invasive. There are a variety of wrist splints available at pharmacies that help keep the wrist in a neutral position. Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help with the pain and inflammation. In chronic cases, steroid shots may be performed. If your case is severe your doctor may recommend a minor surgery to release pressure in the area. "Carpal tunnel surgery is very effective, curing the problem in 95% or greater of people with the condition," said Mendenhall. "Now, 15 to 20 years down the line, it is possible to get recurrent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but its quite rare."

You can avoid the development of carpal tunnel or lessen its impacts by being aware of your hands and how you treat them. Take breaks when doing repetitive motions. Make sure your posture is good so that your shoulders aren't rolled forward. Relax your grip on pens or pencils and don't punch keyboard keys aggressively. Keep your hands warm to avoid stiffness. Oh, and be careful with your selfies. "Use a selfie stick to get your phone out there without actually having to flex your wrist," said Mendenhall.