Why are women more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome?
Did you know that women are three times as likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome than men?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a condition that results in numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the hands and wrist, due to excessive pressure on the median nerve that runs through the forearm and carpal tunnel to the hand.
It is thought that women are more prone to carpal tunnel because the wrist bones are naturally smaller in most women, creating a tighter space through which the nerves and tendons must pass. Women are higher risk for CTS between the ages of 45 - 54 years old.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand and it gives feeling in the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring fingers. The exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome can vary but it usually begins with inflammation of structures in or around the carpal tunnel, such as the tendons. When these structures or tissue become inflamed, they swell, which compresses the median nerve.
- Repetitive motion - repetitive motion can aggravate the wrist tendons, cause swelling and exert pressure on the nerve.
- Genetics - the carpal tunnel is narrower in some people, especially women.
- Hormonal - hormonal changes during menopause and pregnancy can cause swelling in the carpal tunnel.
- Lifestyle factors - including obesity and smoking.
What are the symptoms?
The condition starts gradually, and its symptoms usually include frequent burning, tingling, itchiness or numbness in the palm and fingers, typically the thumb, index and middle fingers. Patients may experience pain and burning that goes up the arm. The affected wrist may hurt at night and interfere with sleep, and the muscles of the hand may feel weak and wasted.
As symptoms worsen, the patient may experience tingling sensations during the day and a reduction in grip strength that makes it tough to form a fist or grasp small objects.
Timely diagnosis and treatment are critical to avoid permanent damage.
How is it treated?
Applying an ice pack can help reduce the pain. Take frequent breaks and ensure correct posture when working, especially if you are doing repetitive motions or at a keyboard. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and swelling.
You may be advised to wear a wrist brace. The brace should contain a splint should keep your wrist in the neutral position. The goal is to stop you curving your hand or balling it into a fist, which can exacerbate carpal tunnel symptoms. This can happen while you are sleeping, so you may need to wear a brace at night.
Surgery may be advised by your medical practitioner if there is moderate to severe compression on the median nerve.
Always consult your doctor if you suspect that you have CTS.