Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) affects millions of Americans. It's caused when a median nerve, which runs through the arm and into the hand is compressed at the wrist, according to the National Institutes of Health. Most commonly, this compression and resulting inflammation are the result of repetitive tasks.
Because electricians are required to make repetitive motions with their wrists, they're more likely to develop this condition. If not identified and treated early, carpal tunnel can become severe and lead to a range of complications as well as pain, surgery and disability. Here's what union leaders should know about CTS and some of the best ways to support members with this condition.
Know the Signs
This condition can develop gradually, making it crucial for members to be able to recognize it early before it worsens. Tell-tale symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Numbness or tingling in the fingers. This is typically one of the first signs of the condition before it progresses to a more frequent and intense tingling sensation. The fingers most commonly affected are the thumb, index and middle fingers.
A sensation of swelling in the fingers. Although the fingers might not appear puffy or enlarged, they might feel swollen.
Nighttime symptoms. Those who suffer from CTS might feel discomfort or an urge to "shake out" the hand or wrist at night.
Tingling during everyday activities. As symptoms worsen, it's common to feel a tingling sensation while driving, reading or using the phone or computer.
Weakness in the hands. As the condition causes the hands to lose their strength, it can become more difficult to perform manual tasks.
Inability to determine hot and cold. Those with severe cases of CTS often cannot tell the difference between hot and cold sensations.
Early Diagnosis and Treatment Is Key
It's essential to identify and treat carpal tunnel syndrome early. If not diagnosed and treated early, CTS could lead to permanent nerve damage, Harvard Medical School warns.
CTS is usually diagnosed based on a physical examination. A doctor might request additional tests to confirm that symptoms aren't caused by another ailment, such as neuropathy, arthritis or a pinched nerve in the neck, all of which can have similar symptoms.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
For mild cases, a medical professional might prescribe resting the hand and wearing a splint at night to reduce tingling and numbness. Injections of steroids like cortisone could alleviate inflammation, while pain medication can relieve discomfort.
Home remedies include elevating the hand and wrist, stretching out the fingers and staying warm. More severe or advanced cases might require surgery to release the ligament that's placing pressure on the median nerve.
Educate and Support Your Members
CTS has the potential to put electricians out of work if left untreated. Union leaders, however, are in a good position to advocate for wellness and promote education among members. This could include:
- Working with health professionals to create literature and resources for members
- Bringing in an occupational therapist or other specialist to give a presentation or webinar
- Raising awareness and highlighting the importance of diagnosing CTS early in an upcoming newsletter
- Reviewing health benefits with members so they understand their coverage for examinations and can get affordable treatment
Carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to severe long-term health effects, but union leaders can ensure that members have the tools to address the condition before it goes that far. Early detection and diagnosis are key to ensuring members lead healthy, happy lives.
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer who has written for both Fortune 500 companies and fintech startups. In a former life, she worked in the communications department of an entertainment labor union. Now a full-time freelancer, she enjoys helping fellow freelancers build a successful business.