Common ailments

Carpal tunnel syndrome

For the last few months I have been experiencing quite a lot of pain in my right hand and it sometimes wakes me at night. My hand and wrist feel very weak at times and I sometimes experience a numb feeling in my hand, especially my thumb, index and middle fingers. I have been a cleaner for many years and the discomfort in my hand is causing problems in my work and daily life.

The symptoms you describe are common symptoms of a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Your carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in your wrist made up of small bones and a tough band of tissue. It acts as a pulley for the tendons that bend the fingers. CTS occurs when the median nerve, which controls sensation and movement in the hands, becomes compressed usually by swelling of the tendons or fluid collection. This can lead to numbness and pain in the fingers and hand, and sometimes the forearm.

Although it isn’t known why the median nerve becomes compressed in most cases, certain things are thought to increase the risk of the condition developing. These include a family history of CTS, being overweight, pregnancy, oral contraceptive pills, strenuous repetitive work with the hand and some health conditions such as diabetes and an underactive thyroid.

If your work as a cleaner does involve using your hands for a lot of strenuous, repetitive work, then it’s highly likely this is what has brought on your condition.

In some cases, CTS will improve after a few months without treatment. Moving your hand or shaking your wrist can often help relieve the symptoms. You may also find that it helps to hang your affected arm over the side of the bed while sleeping.

If your symptoms continue however, then I would advise you to visit your GP. There are a range of non-surgical treatments available, such as wrist splints to wear at night, or corticosteroid injections, which can treat mild or moderate symptoms.  If your GP believes that your condition is more severe, then surgery may be recommended to reduce the pressure on the median nerve.

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