What’s causing that pain in your hands?

Pain, tingling and numbness could be a sign of this syndrome.

Why your hands might be painful

My mate once joked that he got carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) from scrolling down to his birth date.

That was the first time I’d ever heard of CTS, so the joke went largely over my head, although I guessed it was probably akin to Repetitive Strain Injury.

And I wasn’t far wrong.

These days, I know more about CTS because so many people have it, or think they have it.

CTS is something that affects many Australians of varying ages, although it is more common in older types.

As the name suggests, CTS actually involves a tunnel at the base of the hand through which tendons and nerves run. When this tunnel narrows or the tendons swell, the median nerve can become squeezed, causing pain, numbness, itching or a burning sensation in the fingers and hand.

Other symptoms include a feeling that your fingers are swollen, a weakness in your hands, which can make it difficult to carry out tasks that had been simple, and pain up through the wrist and into the elbow.

There are many reasons why this tunnel may narrow. It may be because of an injury to the hand or wrist, a cyst or tumour, being overweight, or simply family history.

And women are three times more likely to develop CTS than men, generally because women have a narrower carpal tunnel than men.

A visit to your doctor may determine whether you have CTS or some form of tendonitis, but this can sometimes be inconclusive, leading to other tests, such as an ultrasound, electromyography or an MRI, which can more closely examine the median nerve to determine whether it’s injured or not functioning correctly.

There are things, however, that you can do to determine whether you have CTS.

Two simple tests – the Phalen test and the Tinel test – help to diagnose CTS.

In most cases rest may ease the problem. If not, you should see your GP, who may suggest a course of tablets such as corticosteroids. If that also fails, he or she might suggest surgery during which the carpal ligament is cut to release pressure on the median nerve.

But, there are a number of things you can do to lessen the likelihood of developing CTS. WebMD suggests the following actions.

1. Try a softer touch. Whatever the job, try to use less force. Be aware of how tense your hands are and how much pressure you put on them.

2. Give yourself a break. Step away from your work to bend or stretch your hands. A 10 to 15-minute break every hour is ideal, especially if you’re using tools that vibrate or require a lot of force.

3. Stretch often. Try this simple stretch: Make a fist then slide your fingers up until they point straight out. Repeat 5-10 times. Or: Make a fist then release your fingers and fan them out. Stretch them as far as you can. Repeat 5-10 times.

Have you ever suffered from CTS? Did you know what it was?

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