Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Did you know that carpal tunnel syndrome affects 1 out of 20 people in the United States? Carpal tunnel syndrome—or CTS—is a common condition of the wrist and hand that can affect the use of the whole arm. It can be painful, and if untreated or severe enough, could require surgery. At Desert Hand Therapy, we prefer a non-surgical or invasive approach whenever possible. That being said, here are some potential warning signs to consider, when you should see a doctor, and how hand therapy can help you heal.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow funnel that is formed by the bones and tissues in your wrist. Additionally, this tunnel serves to protect your median nerve. The median nerve is what helps move your thumbs and the first 3 fingers on each hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when those other tissues found in the carpal tunnel get inflamed, swollen or press against the median nerve—it’s that pressure that can make a part of your hand painful or even feel numb.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually begins gradually with a tingling sensation or numbness in your thumb, index and middle fingers that comes and goes. Common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms may include:
- Tingling or numbness in hand and fingers—especially the thumb, index and middle fingers
- Pain in wrist, palm or forearm
- More numbness or pain at night—the pain may even wake you up from sleep
- Increased pain when using hand or wrist
- Difficulty gripping objects such as a doorknob or the steering wheel of a car
- Weakness in your thumb
How is Carpal Tunnel Diagnosed?
Only a doctor can diagnose you with carpal tunnel syndrome. When you go in for a visit, your doctor may:
- Ask you about your specific symptoms
- Examine you and ask how you use your hands (i.e. do you use them a lot for work? What kind of work?)
- Perform a nerve conduction tests or an EMG test to see if the nerves and muscles in your arm show the effects of CTS
Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
There aren’t proven strategies to prevent CTS, but there are ways to minimize stress to your wrists and hands. By minimizing that stress and being aware of repetitive motion, you could possibly prevent it or lessen the damage done. Here are some tips to try at home:
- Take frequent breaks when doing repeated activities. Give your hands a break and stretch them once in a while
- Make sure your work area is ergonomically correct
- Improve your posture
- Keep your hands warm—you’re more likely to develop hand pain and stiffness if your hands are cold
- Maintain good overall health and wellbeing
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome often will relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, or arm, without a need for surgery. Your licensed hand therapist will create your unique treatment plan based on your specific case. Hand therapy treatment options for carpal tunnel may include:
- Education—changing wrist positions, proper posture, stretching techniques
- Exercises—to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, fingers and forearm
- Stretching—to improve the flexibility of your wrist, hand and fingers
- Heat & Ice—use of cold/heat treatments for pain relief
- Use of a splint to provide comfort and alleviate pain
The goal of hand therapy is to reduce, or even eliminate, your carpal tunnel symptoms without the need for surgery. Hand therapy is a fantastic option as it will enable you to be as active and functional as possible and help you resume your normal home, work and everyday activities.
Have you been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome? Request to schedule an appointment with one of our hand therapists today. Let us help you heal and get back to the activities you love!