Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is an ailment of the wrists, fingers and hands. The condition is often characterized by pain, stiffness, numbness, tingling sensations, trembling, throbbing and / or abnormal weakness in the wrist, fingers and thumb. In severe cases of CTS, the patient may find it challenging to grasp and hold objects because the thumb is not functioning properly. Pain can sometimes go beyond the hand, extending into the arm and possibly even into the shoulder.
Carpal tunnel syndrome was given this name because of its association with the carpal tunnel passageway that runs through the wrist and into the hand. There is a prominent nerve, known as the median nerve, which also shares this passageway into the hand. In connection with some other components of the nervous system, the median nerve is responsible for providing feelings and sensations in parts of some of the fingers.
The carpal tunnel also plays host to multiple tendons that pass through it. Swollen tendons can compress the median nerve, which is often the cause of the pain and other unpleasant symptoms associated with CTS.
Risk Factors for Becoming Afflicted With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are several situations that could put you at an increased risk of experiencing CTS:
- Getting pregnant – especially if you are pregnant with twins or multiples, or if you gain an excessive amount of weight during your pregnancy.
- Reaching menopause
- Taking birth control pills
- Gaining weight rapidly or becoming obese
- Suffering from one or more chronic conditions such as arthritis, hypothyroidism, lupus, diabetes, kidney disease or gout
- Working at a job that frequently requires repetitive motions such as typing, operating a cash register or turning a screwdriver
- Working at a job that requires frequent use of vibrating power tools
- Enduring significant levels of stress, either at work or at home
- Reaching middle age, particularly if you’re female; a significantly high percentage of people who suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are women between the ages of 40 and 60.
Sometimes carpal tunnel syndrome happens when none of these circumstances are evident.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Pregnancy
Pregnancy can create numerous uncomfortable changes in a woman’s body. During this time, the body ramps up production of blood and other fluids to ensure that the developing baby’s needs are met. Hormonal changes can also contribute to fluid retention in the body. Excess fluid can sometimes collect in the hands and other body parts including the face, ankles, legs and feet, resulting in swelling known as oedema. This swelling is particularly common in the third trimester of pregnancy, although it can happen at virtually any time during a pregnancy.
When this build-up of fluid adversely affects the tissues in your wrists, it can result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
Often, carpal tunnel syndrome will resolve on its own after the birth of the baby. However, it doesn’t always vanish straight away after childbirth. There are instances when it can linger, or sometimes even develop for the first time, after the birth of a baby. If that is your situation, we recommend mentioning it to your GP or midwife – or giving us a call to discuss the matter.
When Your Job Puts You at Risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Workers in some occupations are prone to developing CTS. This condition commonly affects typists, mechanics, chefs, athletes, carpenters and musicians. If you find yourself spending a lot of time typing or doing similar repeated motions, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Take frequent breaks to relax and stretch your hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. If you aren’t sure how to do this effectively, do get in touch with us. We can help you learn a series of stretches and exercises that will be of tremendous help to your hands.
- Be sure to periodically switch between tasks; after duration of time spent typing, ensure your hands can rest a bit. Stop and take care of some filing, telephone calls or other items on your to-do list. Return to typing after your hands have had a substantial break.
- Consider supplying your office with ergonomic furnishings and accessories. There are ergonomic computer keyboards, ergonomic chairs and ergonomic desks available, among other things.
How Physiotherapy Can Help Patients Experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Hand therapy is one of our specialties, and it can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. We can help you customise a treatment programme that might include hand splints, mobilisations, exercises, stretches and remedial massages. Steroid injections and surgery are also options, but they may not be necessary if the less invasive interventions are able to provide relief. We’re able to help many of our patients recover from carpal tunnel syndrome without a need for surgery.
Physiotherapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Relating to Chronic Conditions
Perhaps you have a chronic condition or disease such as arthritis or diabetes that is causing or contributing to your carpal tunnel syndrome. If so, it is possible that you might be qualified to claim Medicare benefits to cover up to 5 physiotherapy sessions in certain extremely specific circumstances. The Australian government does allow a limited number of allied health services to be covered by Medicare for patients who suffer from chronic conditions. If you’re hoping to qualify for Medicare benefits under this scheme, you’ll need your GP to refer you to a physiotherapist for treatment that is both medically necessary and directly relevant to your chronic condition.
Claiming Private Health Insurance Benefits to Cover Physiotherapy for CTS
Most physiotherapy treatments are not eligible for cover by the government subsidised Medicare programme. However, private health insurance does often cover visits to your physiotherapist for medically necessary therapies relating to carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are two types of health insurance policies that are likely to include cover for physiotherapy services: extras cover policies, and customised policies that bundle together both extras cover and hospital cover.
Extras cover policies offer varying levels of cover, depending on which type of policy you’re signed up for. The top-level extras cover policies typically cover multiple types of physiotherapy services. Policies offering lesser levels of cover might or might not include physiotherapy, so it’s important to check the details of your policy before submitting a claim for benefits.
We hope you now have a clearer understanding of what carpal tunnel syndrome is, what causes it and how physiotherapy can help you heal from it. Please do get in touch with us if CTS is a condition you’re currently suffering from. It is also advisable to contact us if you suspect you have CTS, and you’d like to have a professional evaluation. We can help you confirm whether carpal tunnel syndrome is, indeed, your issue. If it is, we can also help you customise the gentlest possible recovery programme that will be effective given your current condition.