Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a misunderstood condition. Research studies have tried to identify the cause of CTS, but we still don’t know what actually causes the condition. We know that when the tendons that pass through the carpal tunnel become swollen, you may experience symptoms that include:
- Numbness or tingling in the thumb, pointer, and middle finger
- Weakness / reduced grip strength
- Pain that is relatively constant and worsens over time
A hand surgeon is trained to identify these symptoms when diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome. If symptoms extend to your elbow, a hand specialist will also check for cubital tunnel syndrome.
The unanswered question is why do these tendons become swollen?
First, let’s review: What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located at the center of your wrist joint. The median nerve and finger tendons pass through the carpal tunnel.
When the finger tendons swell, the space within the carpal tunnel gets tighter, putting extra pressure on the median nerve. It feels like a pinched nerve, which causes tingling or burning sensations in the fingers.
Research has been done to determine the cause of CTS, but so far studies have only identified factors that are associated with CTS. A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven. At this point, we know more about what does not cause CTS than what does.
Despite what the general public believes to be true, multiple research studies have shown that carpal tunnel syndrome is NOT caused by too much typing. Because typing involves many finger movements, it seems reasonable to think that those finger tendons could become swollen with too much typing.
Yet studies have shown that typing does not produce enough strain on the tendons to cause swelling. If you have pain in your hand or wrist and you type a lot, the problem is more likely to be another hand/upper extremity condition such as tendonitis or arthritis than CTS.
However, if you have early signs of CTS (unrelated to typing), the added wrist strain from typing can aggravate the problem and cause symptoms to flare. In other words, typing would only be a problem if you already have CTS.
The tasks associated with carpal tunnel and swollen tendons tend to involve excessive vibration in the hand/wrist, such as using a chainsaw or auger. Jobs that require unnatural hand positions like sewing, cleaning, or assembly-line work have also been linked to CTS.
It is best to consult with a hand specialist if you have any type of hand or wrist pain, especially if it interferes with your ability to use your hand or wrist. If caught early, CTS can be relieved without surgery.
Severe cases, in which numbness, tingling, and loss of function are constant, are best treated with surgery. Carpal tunnel release surgery can be performed endoscopically to reduce pain and swelling and recovery time. In fact, carpal tunnel release surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the US.
An orthopedic hand surgeon like Dr. Ayisha Livingstone at Meli Orthopedic Centers of Excellence would be the ideal doctor to evaluate hand/wrist pain. She is fellowship-trained in hand, wrist, and upper extremity surgery. Dr. Livingstone talks more about her approach to CTS in this blog post: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.