Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most common peripheral neuropathy—or pinching of a nerve outside of the spine—affecting between 3-6% of the population. While we usually focus on how carpal tunnel syndrome is managed, in this article we’re going to focus on why CTS is one of the costliest musculoskeletal disorders.
The symptoms associated with CTS (pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness) tend to come on gradually and worsen over time. Because of this, many CTS patients delay seeking care, often only consulting a doctor when their condition severely limits their activities. Generally, the longer a musculoskeletal condition persists, the more care that may be needed in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome for the patient.
The type of care sought by the patient is also a major factor in the ultimate cost for CTS treatment. In one study that monitored 120 women with diagnosed CTS for one year, the researchers found that those treated with manual therapies—such as those provided by doctors of chiropractic—reported similar improvements at the one-year mark as participants who underwent a surgical procedure, with an average cost savings of $2,800.00 per patient. The patients in the manual therapy group also required fewer visits with healthcare providers and missed fewer days of work for recovery.
Work absenteeism is another major cost associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. One report found that the average CTS patient can miss up to 27 days of work per year. The same study also reported that up to 18% of CTS patients leave their job within 18 months. It’s estimated that when healthcare costs, reduced productivity, missed work, and the potential for lost income due to changing careers are considered, the typical carpal tunnel syndrome case may have an overall cost on society of between $47,000 and $119,000! That’s not to mention the impact CTS can have on one’s hobbies, ability to carry out daily tasks, and relationships with friends and loved ones.
With all this in mind, what can be done to reduce the impact CTS could potentially have on you? While there are some risk factors beyond our control such as genetics or biology (women are three times more likely to develop CTS than men, for example), there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk for the condition. First, understand that CTS is generally caused by inflammation in the carpal tunnel that places pressure on the median nerve as it travels through the wrist. Some modifiable causes of inflammation in the wrist can include conditions like diabetes, obesity, awkward hand postures, prolonged exposure to vibrations, and both forceful and repetitive hand motions.
If you feel numbness, tingling, or pain in the hand or wrist, don’t just flick your hand until it resolves and go on with your life. The sooner you seek care, the less likely the condition will have a major effect on your ability to carry out your usual activities, including work! Treatment guidelines recommend trying non-surgical approaches first, of which chiropractic care is a highly effective option.