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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Technology Age

November 1, 2022
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Technology Age

Have you heard of 'tech neck'? If not, we recently published a post about it. You might want to read it. At any rate, tech neck is the informal name of a condition caused by too much time spent using digital technology. But there is another technology-related condition that was discovered before tech neck: carpal tunnel syndrome.

Tech neck is largely the result of looking down at phone screens. Carpal tunnel syndrome manifests itself as pain in the wrists. It can be caused by any number of repetitive behaviors involving the wrists, lower arms, and elbows. But in the technology age, it is frequently associated with phone and computer use.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the more common repetitive stress conditions pain management doctors deal with. It is frequently experienced by office workers whose jobs include things like coding and typing.

It's a Small Tunnel

The condition is so named because it affects a small opening in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel. This is the tunnel through which the median nerve passes. It is formed by carpal bones on the bottom and sides and the carpal ligament on the top.

It turns out that the carpal tunnel in adults is only about an inch wide. Unfortunately, the bones and carpal ligament are very rigid. That means there isn't a lot of room for the tunnel to flex or expand when necessary. Therein lies the big issue with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Putting Pressure on the Median Nerve

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs either when the tunnel itself narrows or surrounding tendons become inflamed. Both conditions put pressure on the median nerve where it passes through the tunnel, reducing blood supply and generating the symptoms associated with the syndrome.

Those symptoms include:

  • numbness and tingling
  • pain (often described as burning)
  • occasional sensations of shock
  • weakness in the hand and/or wrist
  • reduced capacity to grip.

In most cases, symptoms begin gradually and are mild enough to not be associated with the syndrome. It is easy to mistakenly associate the pain and tingling with something else. But over time, symptoms become more pronounced and severe. They can persist for a fairly long time.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Minor cases of carpal tunnel syndrome that resolve quickly can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications and over-the-counter pain medications. But due to the very nature of carpal tunnel syndrome, minor cases with easy resolution are the exception to the rule.

Instead, pain management physicians need to take into account that carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of repetitive stress. They need to think about other treatments, which could include:

  • Braces and Splints – A brace or splint can help tremendously, especially when worn overnight. Either device immobilizes the wrist, thus reducing pressure while the patient is sleeping. Worn during the day, the device can help prevent the very activities that aggravate the condition.
  • Physical Therapy – Physical therapists can recommend certain exercises designed to encourage the median nerve to move more freely within the carpal tunnel. The exercises may or may not help if the source of repetitive stress is not addressed.
  • Lifestyle Changes – Carpal tunnel syndrome can almost always be associated with a specific activity, like using the computer. Lifestyle changes that address how the computer is used may be the only way to relieve the pain.

Unfortunately, the way we use technology increases the likelihood of experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome. But with the help of a good pain management physician, pain relief is possible. Just like tech neck, you don't have to grin and bear carpal tunnel pain.

By KindlyMD

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