Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition where the Median nerve gets compressed at the wrist causing decreased nerve flow to the hand. Symptoms include numbness into the thumb and the next two fingers, weakness in these fingers, and decrease sensation. It is mainly caused by irritation at the wrist from jobs that require a lot of repetitive work with the hands, but can also be caused by pregnancy, trauma, or swelling. Symptoms often occur during certain activities and subsides with rest. It is very common to have symptoms when sleeping, driving, or typing.
Severe chronic carpal tunnel compression often requires surgery to decompress the nerve at the wrist and fix the problem. However, there are many things you can try first to help eliminate this annoying problem:
1. Brace That Wrist
Short term use of carpal tunnel braces have been proven to help decrease symptoms and are effective for use at work and/or at night. Often at night people flex their wrists, but carpal tunnel braces are designed to keep the wrist in a neutral position and therefore open the carpal tunnel. They are proven to significantly decrease symptoms of numbness and pain at night. They help relieve the aggravation on the nerve and therefore help the condition overall. Carpal tunnel braces can be purchased at most pharmacies and medical stores and they are an inexpensive method to help the problem.
2. Get Your Neck Checked
The nerve that travels through the carpal tunnel, the median nerve, originates from the nerve roots in the neck. Hand symptoms often occur when there is pressure on the nerve root due to arthritis, joint irritation, bone spurs or bulging discs and can sometimes mimic carpal tunnel syndrome. Often if the hand symptoms are associated with arm pain or numbness as well as a more constant pain, the problem is originating in the neck. Another test is to see if you can reproduce the hand symptoms with changing the position of your head. If you can do this, your symptoms might be originating from the neck, not the wrist.
Your health care provider will perform various provocative tests to see if the symptoms can be reproduces at the wrist or at the neck, but in some cases a nerve conduction study is needed to help determine the origin of the nerve compression.
3. Change the Way you Work
There is an undisputed correlation with carpal tunnel syndrome and jobs that require repetitive use of the wrist and hands. Simple changes can be made to help take the stress off of your wrist. Try to do the job with your wrist/hand in a neutral position. An example is to purchase a keyboard pad to help elevate the wrist area to line up with the fingers. This can also be done with jobs such as using a knife. You can move the product up or down, or closer to you to better achieve a neutral wrist position.
You can also look for ways to decrease vibration when using tools, lessen the weight of objects you must lift, find ways so you don't have to hang onto items, and wear warm gloves/mitts that cover your wrist.
4. Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your Medical Doctor when you have chronic numbness in your hands. Although rare, some conditions present with symptoms that mimic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Your doctor can order various blood tests to determine if there is a systemic problem causing your hand symptoms.
5. Time to Strengthen Up
There is an old saying that states "everything starts at the core". This is also true with carpal tunnel syndrome. When you have a repetitive job that is physically demanding, sometimes the extremities get injured because of weak shoulders or mid back. When you compensate for a weak core, extra stress is applied to the wrists. A good assessment from your health care provider will tell you where your weakness lies and how to strengthen it.
6. Carpal Tunnel Exercises
There aren't a lot of good studies showing that specific exercises help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome however, there are a lot of case studies that show they help when combined with other proactive changes. Start out with doing 3 sets of 10 of each exercise and never exercise or stretch into pain and always listen to your body. Here are some exercises:
a) Fist to Fan- make a fist and hold for 5 seconds and then fan your fingers out and hold again
b) Shake it out- gently shake your hand, keeping the wrist and fingers loose
c) Fist to Stop sign- make a fist and hold for 5 seconds, then extend your wrist to the stop position
d) Swirl- take a half full glass of water and rotate clock-wise and counter clock-wise for a count of 10 each way.
e) stretch it out- with palm down, gently pull down your hand towards the floor with the other hand and hold for 10 seconds, repeat with your palm up
f) Squeeze it- use a sponge or a soft ball to squeeze
7. Manage Inflammation
It is important to avoid chronic irritation of the wrist. Applying ice after heavy use of the wrist can help decrease swelling and irritation and therefore decrease symptoms. Ice should be applied for 15 minute intervals and never put directly on the skin. Sometimes anti-inflammatory medications can also help decrease symptoms at the wrist. Treatments from your chiropractor can also help decrease inflammation with the use of ultrasound, massage, wrist mobilizations/adjustments, and strength therapy.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be a very annoying condition. If you suspect you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, make some changes in your work and personal life and try these simple tips.
Activity Fact: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be a common presentation in the third trimester of Pregnancy as women tend to retain more fluid. The extra fluid causes pressure at the wrist and symptoms often subside after pregnancy.