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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) – It’s Rush Hour!

During rush hour, it’s not uncommon to find the freeways and highways we use to get to/from work aren’t large enough to accommodate the number of cars on the road at that time. As a result, drivers can easily become agitated and distracted, which increases the risk of traffic collisions.

So, what does this have to do with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)? This analogy depicts what essentially happens when CTS occurs. Picture an assembly line worker packaging cookies. The cookies come out of the oven six rows deep at a rapid pace. There are normally six people working the line, three on each side, but for the last two weeks, one of the workers has been out on maternity leave and no one was assigned to that position, leaving five workers to do the work six people usually share. Let’s say, conservatively, there are 25 cookies packaged per minute. In 60 minutes, 1,500 cookies (25×60) are packaged; in an eight-hour day, 12,000 cookies are packed; and in a 40-hour work week, 48,000 cookies are packaged (by each worker)! That’s a lot of fast, repetitive movements requiring bending forward and reaching, gripping, and moving the cookies into a tray and then stacking the trays.

If there are workers absent or the employer decides to speed up the line or force overtime, the wrists of many of the workers will reach their limit and hurt. (Especially those with other problems that make them more susceptible to CTS like low thyroid function, diabetes, obesity, age over 50, inflammatory arthritis, when taking birth control pills… get the picture!) Hence, when working too fast (rush hour), the fast-paced work inflames the tendons in the carpal tunnel and they pinch the median nerve that also passes through this part of the wrist (the “collision” in our traffic analogy). This creates pain and numbness/tingling that either slows the worker down or completely forces him/her to have to take time off from the job. When working at a slower, more comfortable pace, there is less friction between the carpal tunnel tendons and, therefore, no or significantly less nerve compression and CTS signs or symptoms, just like how travel is a lot smoother when you find yourself on the freeway outside of rush hour.

Because the symptoms associated with CTS gradually appear, we usually don’t run to our doctor until several months (and sometimes years) after the symptoms have been present. This makes it more challenging to treat CTS. Thus, all patients with CTS symptoms are encouraged to seek treatment as soon as possible. There are frequently other problems in the neck, shoulder, and elbow because we tend to compensate, move differently, and use other muscles when there is pain so the elbow, shoulder, and neck can become involved and require attention. This is why a chiropractor who treats all of these areas is a great treatment choice for the CTS patient.


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