You have probably heard friends or family members talking about their “carpal tunnel.” When people talk about carpal tunnel what they actually are referring to is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that happen when a nerve in your wrist is being compressed. Some of the common symptoms include pain, numbness and weakness on the thumb side of the hand and the thumb itself. Several conditions are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and pregnancy. However, most commonly carpal tunnel happens because of repetitive activities such as computer work or assembly line work.
The symptoms can often times be treated “conservatively” meaning without surgery. Physical therapy is a great way to alleviate your carpal tunnel pain and the mechanisms that are leading to your nerve compression. Other things that will help include making ergonomic adjustments, bracing, anti-inflammatory measures and postural activities.
Activities that will decrease you carpal tunnel pain:
1: Make your workstation wrist friendly. You should limit weight-bearing through your wrists and limit activities that involve a great deal of vibration. One of the easiest ways to decrease your wrist/hand pain is to invest in a wrist pad for your computer station.
2: Be conscious of your posture. Carpal tunnel pain is a compression of a nerve in your wrist. If you are slumping or sitting with your head excessively forward then you are putting undue stress on the your nervous system including the nerves in your wrist.
3: Be aware of your wrist position while sleeping. It is common for people to sleep with their wrist fully bent in one direction or another. If you find yourself doing this, it is likely contributing to your wrist pain. Often by tucking your hand under a pillow or by bracing you can relief a great deal of your wrist pain.
4: Bracing or splinting can be helpful. A brace that keeps your wrist in a neutral position will decrease your wrist pain significantly. The brace may be worn in the day or night.
These generic recommendations will help to some degree but they may not take care of all your pain. For more specific ideas about how to manage your unique situation a PT evaluation may be necessary. We regularly treat patients with carpal tunnel symptoms. It would be our pleasure to help you with your hand and wrist pain.
Jon Hill, DPT, Licensed Physical Therapist with Siskiyou Physical Therapy
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