Do I… have carpal tunnel?
It is the middle of the night, you are sound asleep, you are suddenly woke up by pain not in your back, not in your knees but of all places your hands. They hurt, they burn and they feel like they are sound asleep (like you wish you were, right?!) You feel the sudden need to shake them.
Have you ever found yourself in this very same situation? Well if you have you may be one of the 4 to 10 million Americans 1 who suffer from symptoms of a condition called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is possibly the most common nerve disorder experienced today. Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. People with diabetes or other metabolic disorders that directly affect the body’s nerves making them more susceptible to compression are also at high risk. CTS usually occurs only in adults. (2)
Carpal tunnel syndrome is essentially a pinched nerve in the wrist. There is a space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel where the median nerve and nine tendons pass from the forearm into the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when swelling in this tunnel puts pressure on the nerve. (3)
Tell-tail signs that you may be experiencing symptoms of CTS…
- Your hands wake you up at night.
- You find yourself dropping items; one minute you have it and the next you don’t.
- You have difficulty with fine motor tasks such as buttoning your shirt or tying your shoes.
- Your hands seem colder than normal.
- You experience symptoms of burning, numbness and tingling during common tasks like driving or using your phone.
- Your fingers feel swollen or puffy, but they aren’t.
- You have radiating pain up your arm into your elbow or even your shoulder.
- Computer or desk work seems to make your symptoms worse.
- Your symptoms have shown up out of the blue and seem to be progressively getting worse.
- You experience weakness in your hand(s).
Once diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome receiving professional treatment has proven to slow down, and even stop, the progression of CTS. The following are a few ideas to address CTS symptoms at home and at work:
- Physical Therapy with a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)
- A hand therapist can help you understand your condition, assist with splinting needs and set you up with a customized home exercise program to address your symptoms of carpal tunnel including tendon gliding exercises and edema management techniques.
- A pre-fabricated or custom fabricated wrist splint will help keep your wrist in the recommended neutral position while you sleep at night.
- Aerobic Activity (4)
- Daily aerobic exercise can help reduce your symptoms of CTS.
- Use of ergonomic tools and/or anti-vibration gloves
- Tools with longer handles allow you to have a better wrist position and require less gripping force through the fingers. Anti-vibration gloves reduce the vibration affects in the hands and through the carpal tunnel, experienced while working with power tools. (5)
- Workstation/Workplace Behavior Modification
- It is highly recommended that stretching exercises, frequent rest breaks throughout your day and proper workstation set up (wrists in a neutral position) can help prevent and/or reduce symptoms of CTS.
Should I See a Doctor?
Yes. If you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it is best for you to seek evaluation and schedule an appointment for a CTS evaluation with a medical professional (learn more about our therapists and schedule an appointment here).
Living and coping with the pain and numbness of carpal tunnel syndrome may be suitable for short periods of time, but no one should miss out on enjoying their life because of an injury or condition. If you’re experiencing symptoms and need relief, get help now, and get back to living your life symptom-free.
About the Author: Laura Jenkins, MS, OTR/L practices at our Hazelwood, MO location in Village Square Shopping Center. She is a native of Victor, Iowa, Laura has been a practicing occupational therapist following graduation from Washington University School of Occupational Therapy in 2009. Since early in her career, Laura has focused her practice on the management of hand and upper extremity injuries. For over 10 years, Laura has cared for thousands of patients with hand, finger, wrist and elbow injuries and post-operative conditions.
- Nathan PA, Wilcox A, Emerick PS, Meadows KD, McCormack AL. Effects of an aerobic exercise program on median nerve conduction and symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. J Occup Environ Med. 2001;43(10):840-843. doi:10.1097/00043764-200110000-00002
- Wieslander, G., Norbäck, D., Göthe, C. J., & Juhlin, L. (1989). Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and exposure to vibration, repetitive wrist movements, and heavy manual work: a case-referent study. British journal of industrial medicine, 46(1), 43-47. https://doi.org/10.1136/oem.46.1.43