Living with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be trickier than it seems. Y contributor Paul Reddington discusses his struggles with the condition and how he’s overcoming it.
I write to make a living – and two decades and several hundreds of articles later, it’s finally catching up to me.
For a man of 45, I’d like to think I’ve done it all rather well: my cholesterol and blood sugar levels are in check, and my blood pressure has never been more stable.
But as they say – you can’t have it all. And a condition I’m forced to work around is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) – a problem that I first started noticing at the age of 30.
There weren’t any telltale signs of an impending condition. It all began when I woke up one morning (after work) with a numb index finger.
Having come to a foregone conclusion that the numbness and stiffness would fade away in a matter of time, as it always did, I went about my daily businesses as usual.
But here I am, 15 years later, stuck deep with an aching condition that never faded and continues to disrupt my routine on a daily basis.
While it may not seem serious at first, CTS can have long-term effects, says my neurologist Dr. Radha Krishnan – a doctor working with a leading private hospital in the UAE.
As the online health portal for the Mayo Clinic explains: “It (CTS) occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes squeezed at the wrist.
“The carpal tunnel – a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand – houses the median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers.
“The median nerve provides feeling to the palm side of the thumb and to the index, middle, and part of the ring fingers (although not the little finger). It also controls some small muscles at the base of the thumb,” the research adds.
As per my experience, this causes numbness, weakness, and pain in the affected hands and wrists – and, as per Dr. Krishnan, is one of the more common neurological conditions that affects people today.
In fact, the condition was pegged the ‘chief occupational hazard of the 90s’ by the US Department of Labour. Today, it continues to cripple workers from fulfilling their tasks daily.
While the numbers of those suffering from the condition in the Sultanate are unknown, we learn that roughly four to 10 million Americans – anywhere between seven to 16 per cent of the population suffer from it today.
Meanwhile, a study of the median and ulnar nerves of 100 CTS patients in Oman, showed that 85 from the group were women and 15 were men.
Dr. Krishnan adds: “A timely diagnosis can help you overcome most illnesses – and it’s the same case with CTS. The condition begins gradually with light numbness in the palm of the hands or the fingers; mostly the thumb and the index or middle fingers.
“This can make your fingers feel swollen even if there is no apparent swelling. Also, when you rub your hands across the affected fingers, you’ll feel the need to shake out the hand or wrist to lessen the sensation.
“Of course, as you know, that won’t alleviate the numbness,” he adds.
The result is an ache and stiffness that arises when I use the laptop for work for more than 15 to 20 minutes. This requires me to take constant breaks to reduce the tension in my fingers.
In an article published by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it was reiterated that the symptoms often first appear in ‘one or both hands during the night’, since many people sleep with ‘flexed wrists’ – which could result in decreased grip strength, the inability to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks.
Though, in some extreme cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away while for others they’re unable to differentiate between hot and cold by touch.
But it’s not the end of the world for CTS patients. Dr. Krishnan tells me: “The earlier you begin treating CTS, the better your chances of an early, quick, and uncomplicated recovery.
“Currently, there are non-surgical treatments such as splinting (using a splint at night) and yoga to help treat new CTS cases. But, if the pain fails to subside, then we may resort to prescribing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and other pain killers – though, this is only for an immediate relief from pain.
“If that doesn’t work, you may need to consider a surgery. Your doctor will be the best judge of whether you require it or not.
“How this works is the patient’s ligament is severed (with sedation from anesthesia) to reduce pressure on the median nerve – this is an open-release surgery. There’s also an endoscopic surgery that makes recovery sooner and with less post-operative discomfort – but this can cause additional complications.
“Following this, the ligaments grow back and gain strength, and the procedure should make way for the nerves to function properly without any constraints. Recovery can take months, but patients regain almost their full grip and can return to their normal routine,” he adds.
With several options to choose from and procedures only taking a few hours to complete, it’s safe to say that CTS is far from being the ‘chief occupational hazard’ that it once was – and it’s only a matter of time before I gather the wits to go under the knife.
Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek the advice of a medical expert if you have any questions regarding a health issue.