NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, March 19, 2012

COMMENT: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and the Writer [Full link to blog for email clients.]

[updated 4/2/12]
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a catchall term for repetitive motion injuries that involve the wrists. Repeated motions around a joint: wrist, knees, ankles, etc. without appropriate support or care to prevent injury can cause inflammation. The constant movement of muscles and tendons around the joint causes wear, small tears, stretching, and eventually causes the tissues to swell and become painful.

When this happens at the wrist, the swelling can cause one of two things, pain which can be treated by ice and anti-inflammatory drugs, and pressure on the ulnar nerve, again causing pain as well as numbness of the fingers. The numbness occurs because the neurons that make up the nerve bundle of the ulnar median nerve (although ulnar and/or radian nerve can be involved in advanced cases) - which passes through the "carpal tunnel" inside the wrist - are compressed and the compression causes electrical activity within the neurons. Since neurons that make up the long nerves from spinal cord to the periphery are not designed for constant activity, the activity caused by compression "fatigues" the neurons, and they no longer transmit sensory information the way they should. The result is feeling of pain in the hand and numbness of the fingertips in particular the thumb and first two fingers. Another characteristic of carpal tunnel syndrome numbness is that the lack of sensation extends to the third or "ring" finger, but only partially. Last half of the finger appears to have normal sensation, while the half closest to the thumb is numb, just like the adjacent first and second finger. What this means for writer is pain and numbness as they try to type particularly if the risks are not appropriately supported on a desk or on a keyboard. The numbness makes it very difficult to touch type, and the pain tends to slow down any typist whether they touch type or hunt and peck.

[As a tie-in to other posts in this series, diabetics show increased susceptibility to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.]

This is a rather long-winded way to notify readers that I am having some difficulties with carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly in my left wrist with numbness in the fingers of the left hand; but also with some pain in the right wrist. This is usually transitory passing within a couple weeks, and often occurs soon after I take plane trips such as I did approximately 2 weeks ago. What this means for this blog is that to write these columns I am now dictating using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. It works fairly well but is a slow process, because I have to frequently stop and correct technical terms. For this reason I'm a little bit behind in the planned blog posts for this week. I'm planning a follow-up post on diabetes and the brain to discuss the peripheral neuropathy that occurs in advanced cases. I also intend to finish the Guide sections on neural prosthetics and bionics before moving on to the topics that have been suggested by readers. I still have plans to complete these blogs this week and post them as time allows. However, it will take time to do so and I may get a little bit behind in the posting schedule.

Please bear with me, and I will post new content for The LabRats' Guide to the Brain as time and my wrists permit.


  1. Just a minor point, but carpal tunnel syndrome involves the median nerve rather than the ulnar nerve. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also more common in people with diabetes, to go with your next post.

  2. Interesting. I got numbness in my little and ring finger -- college papers on top of story writing. But what got rid of it was doing the old aikido wrist stretches. And again interestingly, they're available on YouTube. :)

  3. Thanks, Don - I have corrected/updated the post accordingly.

  4. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a devastating injury that affects more than 8 million people in the United States and continues to increase each and every year i would like to say thank you about this good post,and this information very helpful to me


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