Can weightlifting cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

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Our wrists are susceptible to a number of potentially debilitating conditions and injuries, especially CTS or carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS is a common hand condition that can cause symptoms like pain, tingling and numbness in the hand and arm. The condition occurs when the median nerve (that runs along a passageway in the wrist), gets compressed. It controls the coarse movements of the hand- including sensations, ability to feel and muscle movements. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve gets compressed or entrapped, it may not function properly, resulting in painful symptoms.

Many people frequently workout in the gym to build muscle, lose weight, or get a toned body. Lifting weight is among the most common exercises and has numerous variations. However, sometimes weightlifting can cause pain, discomfort, or an injury in the wrist and hand, especially if such workouts are part of daily routine.

There is no evidence that weightlifting causes carpal tunnel syndrome directly. Frequently lifting heavy weights with a tight grip can create an intense repetitive stress on the wrist and hand area. Incorrect workout forms or posture and other such factors may also increase the risk of CTS. There is a rising number of carpal tunnel cases among people who engage in weightlifting, body-building and crossfit training.

Luckily, you do not need to stop working out if you are suffering from CTS. Speak with an orthopedic doctor or hand specialist, who will help you identify, predict and manage the symptoms. With proper treatment for carpal tunnel, you can feel confident regarding continuing training and working out again. Patients with severe carpal tunnel syndrome, who have found no relief with several other treatments may benefit from carpal tunnel release surgery.

Apart from carpal tunnel syndrome, there are several other reasons that might be causing wrist pain. Typically, wrist pain is moderate, but it can also be serious if there is an injury. If you are frequently experiencing wrist pain with your workouts, you should speak to a doctor about it.

Seek medical attention before continuing weightliging

As soon as you realise you have CTS, you should seek medical attention. Even if symptoms are mild and intermittent initially, they are likely to get worse over time. If carpal tunnel syndrome is left untreated while still training and actively using your wrist, you could develop permanent hand damage.

There are other conditions affecting the hand, including arthritis and nerve disorders that have symptoms similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. So, an orthopedic specialist will need to rule out those serious conditions before suggesting you a treatment for CTS. The orthopaedic specialist may use imaging tests such as an MRI or electrophysiological to confirm diagnosis of CTS and develop a treatment plan for your case.

The initial nonsurgical treatment options may include splinting, immobilizing the wrist using anti-inflammatory, steroid injections or medications to reduce swelling and pain. This treatment may hold you back in your regular workout routine for a while but it is essential to complete the full course of treatment and follow your orthopedic recommendations to prevent recurrence of CTS.

Is carpal tunnel syndrome permanent?

In some cases, if CTS is mild and it is diagnosed early, it may go away on its own with rest or wearing a wrist splint. Once carpal tunnel pain becomes evident and frequent, it is unlikely to resolve on its own without any medical treatment. However, this does not mean that surgery is the only option for treatment. In early or mild cases of CTS, conservative treatments, including physical therapy, splints, stretching, and lifestyle modification are suggested. While orthopedic doctors fully understand the desire of patients to avoid more invasive treatments, it is important to understand that when left untreated, CTS can get worse and lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage. Early diagnosis and treatment of a condition always offer the best results.

If carpal tunnel symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks despite treatment, rest, icing, and lifestyle modification, the doctor may recommend a more invasive treatment method, such as carpal tunnel release.

When to see an orthopedic doctor for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Ideally, you should always consult an orthopedic doctor as soon as you suspect that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. But there are some signs that indicate immediate medical attention. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see an orthopedic doctor immediately-

  • Pain and other symptoms of CTS that continue for 2 weeks or more
  • Persistent pain that interferes with sleep or daily life
  • Loss of sensations in the upper arm

Which doctor should I visit for carpal tunnel?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an orthopaedic condition and should be diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon or a hand specialist. The doctor will conduct a medical examination and may also order some diagnostic or imaging tests to assess the condition of the hand. The surgeon may also ask you questions or perform a physical diagnosis to assess the sensations and functioning of the wrist and hand, ask about your medical history, and analyze your daily lifestyle and symptoms.

Are exercises to treat carpal tunnel syndrome effective?

Patients with mild symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often find relief resting, icing and hand exercises. With regular exercise combined with other conservative treatments, patients can relieve the pain and restore grip strength eventually.

For patients with chronic or severe CTS, exercises and training might not be enough. If the condition does not respond to exercises, both doctor and patient should consider other treatment options. Patients who find no relief with various nonsurgical treatments for CTS should consider carpal tunnel release surgery, which is a minimally invasive procedure.

Surgical options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are two primary surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome-

  • Open surgery- which involves making a 2 inch incision in the wrist to allow the surgeon to cut through the transverse ligament. This incision expands the carpal tunnel and decompresses the median nerve, relieving symptoms.
  • Endoscopic surgery- Endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery is a minimally invasive approach where the surgeon makes 2 half-inch incisions in the wrist (instead of one long incision).  

Carpal tunnel release surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, which means that you should be able to return home the same day without the need of hospitalization. Your wrist will be bandaged and splinted for a few days to allow for healing and your orthopedic surgeon may also ask you to keep your hand elevated in order to limit swelling.  

How effective is carpal tunnel release surgery?

About 75 to 90% patients report that their symptoms have improved and live a symptom-free life later.

Surgery is usually only recommended if symptoms are chronic and severe despite trying several treatments such as wrist splints or corticosteroid injections. In those cases, surgery can provide long-term relief and better outcomes than repeating steroid injections.

Acute CTS with sudden and severe pain and is not very common and often occurs after an injury, infection or internal bleeding in the wrist. In such cases, undergoing carpal tunnel surgery quickly is usually the only way to get effective relief and restore function.

Most people report relief from symptoms after surgery. After your carpal tunnel release surgery, if you do not experience pain, lasting abnormal sensations or loss of strength in the hand or wrist, the symptoms are likely to improve rapidly. One of the factors that determine how fast you recover after carpal tunnel release is how severe was the nerve damage. After surgery, the pain usually disappears pretty fast, but it may need more time to recover completely.

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