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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the single, most common work related disorder this century. Computer workers, those doing manual labor, parents and even sports enthusiasts are all finding themselves suffering the painful effects of CTS.

DEFINITION
CTS is defined as a syndrome that occurs when the median nerve traveling through the tunnel of the wrist bone becomes compressed by tendons, which also share the same space. Nerves respond to compression by sending your brain pain signals.

CTS is an inflammatory disorder caused by repetitive stress, injury, accident and possibly, illness. Any time that the tissue around the median nerve becomes swollen, you can feel the painful symptoms of CTS.

Studies today show us that using the same repetitive motion thousands of times daily, over long periods of time, causes strain and high levels of pressure in muscles that are rarely used for other tasks.

COMMON INJURY
CTS has become more common in recent years, though it's certainly not a new disorder. Approximately .1% of the general population and as many as 15% of workers have fallen victim to CTS. Of all the work related complaints, approximately 40% of those reported annually are due to CTS.

KEY RISK FACTORS
Researchers have defined several key risk factors in the workplace, which cause one to be more susceptible to repetitive stress injuries. Those risk factors include:

1. Repetition.
2. High Force
3. Awkward joint posture
4. Direct pressure
5. Vibration
6. Prolonged constrained posture.

SYMPTOMS
Pain
Numbness
Tingling in fingers or hands
Swelling around wrist area
Clumsiness
Weak hands or wrists
Tired shoulders, arms or wrists
Dysfunction

Repetitive strain injuries, such as CTS, do not generally impair the function of nerves. For that reason, it can be difficult to diagnose and treat such vague symptoms. If you suffer any overall stiffness or pain in the fingers, hand, thumb, wrist or elbow, a doctor should be seen at once.

ARE YOU AT RISK?
One of the most significant reasons for the increase in those afflicted with CTS in the last few years is due to the rise in computer users. Computer workers are not the only ones at risk, however. Assembly line workers, video game players, chefs, dentists, secretaries, tennis players, musicians, construction workers, race car drivers, teachers, police officers and electricians have suffered for many years with the devastating affects of repetitive motion disorders, such as CTS. Almost any activity which causes you to repeat movement, grip items tightly or move your wrist into uncomfortable positions can cause CTS.

DIAGNOSIS
A positive diagnosis of CTS can only be garnered through a diagnostics procedure known as an "electromyograph," or EMG. An EMG detects nearly 90% of those with CTS.

TREATMENT OF CTS
CTS can be treated surgically and non-surgically. Non-surgical approaches work well with those with mild symptoms, and may involve giving the wrist greater periods of rest, wearing splints and taking anti-inflammatory medicines.

Surgical treatment of CTS takes place when symptoms fail to respond to non-surgical methods. If symptoms are severe enough to interfere with the patient's daily life, surgery to decompression is performed.

PREVENTION
Preventing CTS is far easier than treating it. Monitoring your body's pain signals and readjusting your work space can go a long way in preventing repetitive stress injuries.

REDESIGN work and play stations so that they allow for ergonomical furniture and office equipment. Replacing old tools with new and better ergonomically correct ones can stave off most cases of CTS.

REST often. If you must do repetitive tasks, begin by doing a short warm-up. Move wrist muscles around and warm the joints. After work has begun, take frequent breaks and avoid overexertion of hand and finger muscles.

PRACTICE good posture. Typists and those who work behind computer monitors should sit with their spine against the back of the chair and their shoulders relaxed. Elbows should never leave the sides of the body and wrists should never be bent. Feet should be placed flat the floor or a footrest. Keep reading and typing materials at eye level, never allowing the neck to bed forward while working.

COLD soaks in a bowl of cool water helps to treat inflammation and ease minor pain. (Note: If hot soaks or wraps relieve pain, odds are you do not suffer from CTS.)

OTC pain relievers can go a long way in easing minor pain.

MAGNETIC therapy has been used extensively in many countries to successfully treat inflammation and pain associated with CTS. Special wrist and finger magnets can be purchased and worn during times of rest or play.

VITAMIN B6 has been used in Europe in recent years to combat pain and inflammation. Though results are not conclusive, many reports suggest that those suffering from CTS are Vitamin B6 deficient.