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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Use Injuries in the Workplace

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a progressively painful hand and arm condition caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist. The pressure may come from swelling or anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller.  The carpal tunnel is a passage between the arm and hand through which the median nerve is allowed to pass freely in a normal healthy wrist.   CTS can be caused by congenital factors (e.g., hypothyroidism, rheumetorid arthritis, and diabetes, pregnancy, obesity) or by making the same hand movements over and over, especially if the wrist is bent down (your hands lower than your wrists).  Repetitive hand movements are often involved in assembly and manufacturing jobs as well as secretarial positions and musicians.  When CTS is caused by repetitive workplace use it may be referred to as an occupational disease.  The dominant hand is most commonly becomes affected first and produces the most severe pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually occurs only in adults. In addition, women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men.

Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers. The symptoms often first appear in one or both hands at nighttime, since many people sleep with flexed wrists. A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may wake up feeling the need to "shake out" the hand or wrist. As symptoms progressively worsen, people might feel tingling during the day, as well. Decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. In chronic and/or untreated cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may waste away. Some people may become unable to tell between hot and cold by touch.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed by the history of symptoms, physical exam, x-ray, electromyogram or a nerve conduction study. Some people with mild symptoms can ease their discomfort by taking frequent breaks to rest their hands and by applying cold packs to reduce occasional swelling. If these techniques fail to offer relief within a few weeks, additional treatment options include wrist splinting, medications and surgery. Fortunately, for the majority of people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, proper treatment usually can relieve the pain and numbness and restore normal use of their wrists and hands.  Sometimes surgery is necessary to open the carpal tunnel to allow for the movement of the nerve.

If you develop carpal tunnel syndrome related to repetitive use in the work place, an experienced workers' compensation attorney may be necessary.  Of course, it is important to report the repetitive use in the work place to your physician as early as possible when symptoms start to develop.   Learn more here.

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