The Doctors column: Four myths of carpal tunnel
Myth: Aching wrists mean you’ve got it. In fact, many conditions, such as arthritis or tendinitis, could cause wrist and hand pain. Your doctor will take a history and do a physical exam to determine a diagnosis; he also may test nerves with electrical impulses.
Myth: It’s common in men. Actually, women are three times more apt to develop it. The reason may be anatomical: The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway on the palm side of your wrist; it’s bound by ligaments and bones and houses a main nerve and tendons. In women, the carpal tunnel may be small, so the slightest swelling, inflammation or pressure could compress the nerve and cause characteristic symptoms, including tingling or numbness (in all fingers except the pinkie), a burning pain in your arms or hands, and a weak grip.
Myth: Blame keyboards. Typing for hours may make your hand hurt, but researchers debate whether it’s a primary cause. The syndrome is linked to assembly-line work that requires prolonged or repeated flexing of the wrist (sewing, cleaning, meat-packing) and to vibrating hand tools. Other risk factors: diabetes, pregnancy, thyroid disorders and injuries.
Myth: You’ll need surgery. Not necessarily. Your doctor may first suggest rest breaks, cold packs and avoiding activities that worsen symptoms. Next, you might wear a splint to immobilize the wrist, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) or get corticosteroid injections. Surgery is generally recommended for severe, persistent symptoms that don’t respond to the more conservative solutions.
“The Doctors” is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check http://www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.