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Diabetes and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is likely the disorder most commonly associated with the general term "ergonomics." The average person understands the symptoms of CTS (i.e. pain in the wrist), but is not familiar with how it is caused, why it occurs, or how it affects the body outside of the wrist area. In fact, it would surprise many to learn there is an understood link between CTS and another commonly understood health concern: Diabetes.

The word "carpal" is derived from the Greek "karpos" which refers to the wrist. The bones of the wrist are surrounded by fibrous tissue which supports the karpos. There is however, a space in between this tissue and the actual bone, known as the "carpal tunnel." In this tunnel runs a nerve, known as the median nerve, which is responsible for relaying sensory information, such as the touch sensations of the thumb, index, and middle fingers of the hand. If, for any reason, the tissue surrounding the karpos becomes swollen, it can put pressure on the median nerve, causing tingling, numbness, and in advanced cases, pain.

While swelling of the feet and ankles is a commonly-observed side effect among diabetes patients, swelling of other joints, including the wrists is starting to become more prevalent. Swelling in the wrists among diabetes patients has been attributed to new diabetes medications. Among the side effects of newer, more effective blood glucose-leveling medications is swelling of specific joints, including the wrists. Another thought is that because when blood glucose levels are high, the proteins in the tendons of the carpal tunnel become "glycosylated" - a phenomenon wherein glucose attaches to the tendon proteins, inflaming them - the median nerve can be constricted.

Whatever the cause, carpal tunnel syndrome is 15 times more likely in persons with diabetes than those without. Taking precautions against carpal tunnel syndrome is especially important for office workers with diabetes. Here's a brief review of some standard measures to be taken against incurring carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Cease Aggravating Activity: The easiest way to prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome is to cease activity which causes it. This is easily accomplished if you believe your symptoms to result from some extracurricular activity, such as knitting. If, on the other hand, your carpal tunnel results from a work-related activity, this may be a little trickier.
  • Massage: If you must continually partake in a wrist-inflaming activity, try massaging and stretching the muscles and tendons of your wrist before the activity. Doing this can ready your body for the action, making it less likely to become inflamed.
  • Wear a Splint: While uncomfortable for some, a wrist splint prevents your wrist from assuming any potentially aggravating positions. The daily wear of a splint is in fact one of the best ways to prevent CTS.

If you have diabetes, or if diabetes runs in your family, you are technically at a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Taking these few precautions can go a long way toward preventing a potentially debilitating condition.

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