From long hours at the keyboard to handling busy multiline phone systems, office workers often spend much of the day performing repetitive movements in fast-paced environments. Physicians have recognized a potential link between these types of routine activities and carpal tunnel syndrome for some time. According to a recent study by the CDC, office and administrative support is among the top three occupational categories at risk for developing CTS.

While the initial effects of CTS may not seem very serious, it is important for those experiencing possible symptoms to see a doctor sooner rather than later. Left without treatment, CTS may result in permanent damage to muscles and nerves, potentially leading to loss of hand function.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage located in the wrist. A primary nerve, known as the median nerve, runs down the length of the arm and through this passageway to provide the hand and fingers with feeling and movement. Repetitive movements over a prolonged period may aggravate tissue in the wrist, leading to swelling and narrowing of the carpal tunnel and excessive pressure on the median nerve.

What are the symptoms of CTS?

The symptoms of CTS often develop gradually and, in the initial stages, may even seem to come and go. Signs include:

  • Hand pain, tingling or numbness, especially in the index, middle, ring fingers and thumb
  • Tingling or pain that moves up the forearm toward the shoulder
  • Hand weakness and decreased grip strength
  • Loss of ability to sense hot and cold

Those noticing these types of symptoms should ask their doctor about the possibility of CTS. With early intervention, individuals may relieve the condition through splinting, physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications. In advanced cases, however, the condition may require surgery.

CTS and workers’ compensation

While carpal tunnel surgery often provides immediate relief from symptoms, a full recovery may take months. In many cases, individuals face forced time away from work as well as mounting medical costs. Office and administrative support employees who develop the condition due to repetitive stress on the job may be able to receive compensation through their employer’s insurer.