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Could the chronic pain in your hand be carpal tunnel syndrome?

Do you feel weakness, numbness and tingling in your hand, and do you feel the need to shake out your wrist and hand when you wake up in the morning? If you do, you might be wise to ask your doctor's opinion sooner rather than later. It might be carpal tunnel syndrome, which will require surgery if you do not treat it in the early stages.

According to the California Department of Public Health, researchers have determined that the rate of carpal tunnel syndrome in workers in the state is exceptionally high. Analysis of workers' compensation claims allowed researchers to identify causes and prevalence by occupation and industry.

What is the carpal tunnel?

Bones and ligaments form a rigid passageway at the base of your hand. It creates a narrow tunnel through which the median nerve travels to the hand. The median nerve is a primary nerve that is responsible for providing feeling to the fingers and controlling several small muscles at the base of your thumb.

The syndrome develops when excessive use causes swelling of the median nerve, and its compression in the narrow tunnel as it travels through the wrist leads to numbness and pain.

Are you at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome?

Researchers say jobs that require workers to use their hands to perform frequent, repetitive or forceful motions put them at risk, and having to maintain awkward body postures while working exacerbates the risk. If you work in any of the following occupations, you will be wise to take precautions:

  • You will be at risk if your job involves manufacturing of apparel.
  • Food processing plant workers use repetitive hand motions for hours on end.
  • Working in an administrative position might require long hours of manipulating a computer mouse and typing on a keyboard.
  • If you are a telephone operator, you will also use repetitive hand motions.
  • Counter attendants in coffee shops, food concessions and cafeterias are typical carpal tunnel syndrome victims.
  • Electromechanical, electronic and electrical assemblers use forceful, repetitive hand motions.

Researchers say the fact that most women have smaller carpal tunnels than men do makes them more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome.

What non-surgical treatments are available?

If you do not seek medical care in the initial stages, surgery might be the only remedy. However, you might find relief by using some of the following non-surgical treatments:

  • Avoid activities that provoke symptoms.
  • Take frequent breaks throughout your shift to rest your hand.
  • You might find relief by wearing a splint when you sleep.
  • Apply cold packs if your wrist becomes swollen, warm and red.
  • Although prescription medication like Corticosteroids or lidocaine can help if you have intermittent or mild symptoms, it might adversely affect the regulation of insulin levels in workers with diabetes.
  • Some over-the-counter medications that could bring relief of swelling and pain include ibuprofen, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, although there is no proof that nonprescription pain medicines will treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

Alternative therapies like yoga, chiropractic care and acupuncture are also known to reduce pain, but they, too, have not proved to cure carpal tunnel syndrome.

Does workers' compensation cover carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a recognized work-related repetitive stress injury. Legal counsel with experience in dealing with the California insurance program can assist you with claiming workers' compensation benefits to cover your medical bills and lost wages.

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