5 Ways to Alleviate Pain from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the compression of the median nerve (located on the palm side of the hand) as it passes into the hand. The median nerve provides the thumb, index finger, long finger, and part of the ring finger the ability to feel (sensation). This condition can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both hands.
Carpal tunnel pain is a result of excess pressure in your wrist and the median nerve. Inflammation is what causes compression of the median nerve. There are several underlying conditions that may cause the inflammation such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Fluid retention caused by pregnancy or menopause
- Fractures or trauma to the wrist
Who is most at risk?
Women are three times at higher risk of having carpal tunnel syndrome than men. Age is also a factor given that it is most frequently diagnosed between the ages 30 to 60. Here are some more risk factors:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High body mass index (BMI)
- High salt intake
- Jobs with repetitive movement such as construction, assembly line work, manufacturing, and keyboarding occupation.
- A family member with small carpal tunnels.
- Fractured or dislocated wrist
We know that most symptoms occur in the wrist but here are the more detailed symptoms:
- Pain and burning that travels up the arm. Sometimes this pain will travel up to the shoulder.
- Wrist pain at night that interferes with sleep.
- Weakness in the hand muscles. This sudden weakness may cause you to drop objects you are holding.
- Numbness, tingling, and pain in the thumb and fingers excluding the pinky.
- Shocks that come and go in the thumb and fingers.
- Feeling your fingers swell even if they do not seem it.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be diagnosed by administering the following tests:
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRI. These tests allow the doctor to look at your bones and tissues.
- Test in which your doctor puts a thin electrode into a muscle to measure its electrical activity known as electromyogram.
- Nerve conduction studies in which the doctor tapes electrodes to your skin to measure the signals in the nerves of your hand and arm.
- Doctor may fully flex your wrist while your arms are extended, a test known as Phalen’s sign.
- Doctor may tap the palm side of your wrist, a test known as Tinel’s sign.
Apart from these tests, your doctor will also need a physical examination and your history. During the examination, the doctor will do a detailed evaluation of your wrist, hand, neck, and shoulder to check for other potential causes of nerve pressure. Furthermore, your wrists will be checked for swelling, tenderness, or deformity. Lastly, the sensation to the fingers and strength of the muscles in your hand will also be checked.
Treatments vary from person to person. What may work for you, might not work for the next person. Treatments range from nonsurgical options to surgery. Treating carpal tunnel syndrome early on can slow it down or even stop it. By getting an early treatment, the recovery time will become shorter.
- Wrist brace to hold hand in a neutral position.
- Avoiding positions that overextend the wrist.
- Medications to reduce inflammation such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Mild pain medications.
- Treatment of underlying conditions
- Steroid injections into the carpal tunnel area.
- Yoga (it has been known to ease pain and strengthen grip).
- Physical and occupational therapy. Therapy can help strengthen your hand and wrist muscles. You can also learn new routine motions to ease stress on your hands and wrist.
Surgery may become necessary if there is severe damage to the median nerve. This surgery involves cutting the band of tissue in the wrist that crosses the median nerve to lessen the pressure on your nerve.
Self-care is one of the most important things to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. These are things you should do before and along with other forms of treatment. They will not cure it but may certainly be helpful.
- Ice your wrist for 10-15 minutes at least once an hour. You can do this by applying ice on your wrist or soaking your wrist in an ice bath.
- You can hang your wrist over the side of the bed to ease discomfort at night. Gently shaking it may also help.
- Put your hand in warm water (100F, 37C), then gently flex and extend your arm and wrist. Do these 3 to 4 times a day.
- Give your hands enough rest, that means giving them a break from things that affect the symptoms. Also take small breaks from any activity that involves your hands.
- When using a mouse or keyboard, adjust the seat so that your wrists do not have to flex.
- Do not rest your wrists on the edge of a table/desk or any hard and sharp surface.
- Watch your posture and do not roll your shoulders forward. By slouching, a chain reaction is set off that make wrist problems worse.
It is highly possible that you will need to make some adjustments to your lifestyle. The changes depend on a condition you may have. This includes changes due to diabetes, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure. Of course, these changes may also occur to your working lifestyle depending on what your tasks require you to do.
Talk to your manager (if you have one) and see about changing your work setup such as your desk or your tools. Start alternating which hand you use for tasks, do not just use one all the time. Use only the necessary force, do not exceed it by holding tools too tightly or pounding away at the keyboard (remember take breaks from 10 to 15 minutes preferably every hour).