Do you experience hand or wrist pain that makes it hard to do everyday tasks? Is your pain accompanied by numbness or tingling? Does your pain seem to come on at night, and is it worse in your dominant hand? If you answered yes to these questions, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, a common condition affecting three to six percent of the adult population. Although surgery is necessary for some patients with severe carpal tunnel syndrome many find relief with conservative, nonsurgical treatments. Keep reading for safe and effective treatments and carpal tunnel pain relief tips.
The carpal tunnel is a long tube made of ligament and bones located in the wrist. The median nerve and the tendons that connect the hand to the forearm are located inside the carpal tunnel.
The median nerve provides sensation to the thumb and first three fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve caused by narrowing of the carpal tunnel that surrounds it. When tendons that travel through the carpal tunnel are irritated or if there are other causes of swelling, the median nerve gets compressed..
Initial CTS symptoms are numbness, tingling, and/or burning in the thumb, index, middle finger, and occasionally the ring finger. (The pinky finger is not usually affected.) Hand and wrist pain, weakness, and numbness are also common CTS symptoms. As the condition worsens, someone with CTS may have difficulty gripping, grasping, or holding objects.
CTS is largely caused by motions that involve repetitive and prolonged bending or extension of the wrist. Over time, these repetitive movements inflame the carpal tunnel which increases pressure on the median nerve.
For many people, CTS is a consequence of their profession. People who use vibrating tools like construction workers are at risk. Other examples of these jobs include cosmetologists who cut and style hair and office workers who type on a keyboard for hours at a time.
Carpal tunnel pain is also a byproduct of our growing dependence on technology. CTS is one of many tech-related injuries that are on the rise due to the increase in the use of mobile phones, tablets, gaming systems, and laptops and PCs.
If your hobbies involve a good deal of bending of the wrist, you may also experience CTS symptoms. Sewing, gardening, and recreational sports like tennis and golf can inflame the carpal tunnel. Arthritis and other joint diseases and other injuries and conditions of the wrist can also contribute to CTS wrist and hand pain. Pregnancy and other conditions that may lead to weight gain can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
There is good news if you suffer from carpal tunnel pain. Relief is possible without surgery and opioid pain medication. Here are some tips to get started on your journey to long-term pain relief.
It is the frequent, repetitive movement of the wrist for extended periods of time that leads to inflammation of the median nerve. Dial back these activities for a day or two if you have a flare-up and incorporate frequent rest breaks throughout your day going forward, especially if you have a high-risk job or hobby.
Exercises and stretches for hand and wrist pain are simple, quick, and don’t require any equipment. Stretching improves flexibility in the wrist, hand, and fingers. Exercises to build strength and improve posture take pressure off your hand and wrist. You can do these at home, or with the guidance of your physical therapist as part of a comprehensive carpal tunnel syndrome program.
Minor changes in how you work, play, relax, and sleep help combat carpal tunnel pain. Ergonomic education on the best posture when you work on a computer or use your mobile phone can decrease symptoms.
If you work with tools, choose larger items for a more comfortable grip. Individuals who work with vibrating tools benefit from wearing special gloves that absorb some of that pressure. A physical therapist with experience treating patients with CTS is a great resource for guidance on specific modifications to protect your hand and wrist from injuries.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to be in pain to make these changes. If you have a job or hobby that requires continual bending of the wrist, adopting these habits and tips can help you stay symptom-free.
People with CTS often report they have carpal tunnel pain at night, especially if they sleep with their wrists bent. If that sounds like you, consider wearing a wrist splint at night. Splinting stabilizes your hand your hand in a position that eases pressure on the median nerve.
Yes. Research shows that evidence-based physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome can be helpful to control symptoms in some patients. Physical therapists partner with other healthcare providers to diagnose and treat CTS. If self-care methods aren’t working for you, or your symptoms are getting worse, a physical therapy screening is a great first start.
During the initial evaluation, the physical therapist asks questions about your overall health before focusing on your symptoms. They ask questions to get to the underlying cause of why you have numbness, weakness, and/or pain. They may ask what you do for work, if certain activities trigger pain, and how long and often symptoms occur.
Next is a physical exam to assess how you feel and move in various positions. As you perform basic tasks like picking up and holding an object, your therapist evaluates your strength and mobility. Various sensory tests, range-of-motion tests, and electrical and nerve studies are also used to diagnose or rule out CTS.
From there, a customized physical therapy treatment plan is created to relieve your symptoms and prevent them from recurring. Education, exercise, stretching, and manual therapy are key components of CTS physical therapy. After carpal tunnel surgery, physical therapy helps patients rebuild strength and mobility and manage scars to keep skin flexible and supple.
Even if your CTS symptoms are mild, it is never a good idea to dismiss them. If this condition goes untreated, it can lead to permanent nerve damage and significant weakness To schedule a screening to assess carpal tunnel pain and find out if nonsurgical treatment is an option for you, find a physical therapy clinic in your area.