What Happens If Carpal Tunnel Goes Untreated
It’s not often that you feel like you’re going to faint — when your hands start feeling weak or numb. But if you’ve ever had carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), then you know what we mean. It feels as though all the blood has suddenly rushed out of your limbs, leaving them cold and lifeless. Even worse, it takes away from how good your hands look when they’re holding tools or writing checks. And it can be so debilitating that you may find yourself having trouble doing things that used to come naturally.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs mostly among women over the age of 40. While anyone can get CTS, it tends to affect more females than males because women tend to have smaller wrists and shorter arms than men do. In fact, only about 10 percent of cases occur in men. Because there are fewer men with bigger-than-average hands, this means that while it does happen to guys who have big mitts, it’s less likely to do so. Also, those with larger biceps will probably experience pain at the base of the forearm instead of just above it. This is due to muscle compression caused by large muscular arms.
The carpal tunnel is a small passageway on the palm side of your wrist. A network of ligaments connects your bones to each other and helps keep your muscles and joints lined up properly. When someone has carpal tunnel, these ligaments become compressed. As a result, the median nerve gets pinched, which causes numbness in parts of the hand and arm, as well as tingling sensations. These symptoms are typically felt more strongly in the night, after long periods sitting still, or during activities such as typing, raking leaves or working with your hands.
When the condition worsens, some patients may notice loss of grip strength and dexterity, especially with fine motor skills. They may also develop difficulty turning doorknobs or buttoning buttons. You could even lose control of your own fingers altogether. Other signs include burning, stinging or shooting pains down into the wrist and/or elbow area. Some people report losing sensation in part of their face, too.
To make matters worse, since carpal tunnel affects the nerves controlling the hand and fingers, it can cause problems with the ability to write, type, hold objects or perform everyday tasks. Just getting dressed and putting your shoes on can be difficult. You might even need help showering and bathing. This can be frustrating, but thankfully, treating your carpal tunnel doesn’t take much effort. For most people, treatment relieves the symptoms completely.
So what happens when you don’t treat carpal tunnel? Can it turn into something serious? Read on to learn about the effects of not taking care of CTS.
Effects of Not Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, you should see a doctor immediately. Left untreated, the condition can worsen quickly. One reason why is that the carpal tunnel consists of several important structures, including the flexor tendon sheath, the flexor retinaculum, the palmar aponeurosis, the deep transverse carpal ligament, the superficial transverse carpal ligament, the pisohamate ligament, the radiocapitate ligament and the intercarpal membrane. All these structures work together to provide support to the median nerve. So any damage or injury to one of these structures may cause additional complications.
In addition, there are two main arteries near the carpal tunnel: the radial artery and the ulnar artery. Damage to either of these vessels can impair circulation to your hand, resulting in poor healing. This can make it harder for doctors to repair damaged tissue. Finally, CTS generally runs in families, meaning a close relative may already have the disease. Ignoring the problem won’t let it progress. Instead, it’ll continue to spread, causing further complications.
Once you receive an official diagnosis from a physician, you’ll want to discuss how best to protect your hands. There are many different approaches. Your doctor might recommend wearing splints, braces, supports, gloves and special computer keyboards designed to limit your exposure to repetitive motions. He or she might also suggest avoiding certain occupations where you use your hands extensively. For example, jobs involving construction, assembly line work, sewing or using power tools can increase your risk of developing CTS.
Since CTS usually responds well to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, you may want to consider trying one first before visiting your doctor. Most experts agree that early detection and proper treatment are crucial to preventing severe complications associated with carpal tunnel.
While carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t contagious, it does sometimes spread between family members within the same household. Sharing dishes, eating utensils, towels, bed linens and toiletries such as soap and toothbrushes can carry germs that cause infection. To avoid spreading the condition, wash your hands carefully and thoroughly whenever you touch another person or item.
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