The pain of carpal tunnel syndrome can be excruciating. It can come on while you are sleeping at night or while you are at work. Your hands tingle and turn numb, then sharp pains take over your wrist and arm. You try to ignore it, but after months you may be thinking you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive use of the wrist that causes compression and damage to the nerves. This article will help you understand more about the condition and how it is managed.
What Is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is brought on by compression of a nerve in the area of the wrist known as, the carpal tunnel. This is a tiny passage near your palm that surrounds the nerve that supplies your hand and finger muscles. With repetitive use, the nerve becomes compressed due to inflammation. This can lead to pain and weakness in the wrist and hand.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are generally experienced in the wrist, palm, and/or fingers.The following are symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:
Pain in the wrist
Pain in your hand
Numbness in the affected hand
Tingling or “pins-and-needles” in the affected hand
Stiffness or trouble moving affected fingers (cannot pinch objects)
Inability to use hand for tasks such as using silverware, hair brushing, etc.
Inability to flex the wrist
The symptoms above usually get worse at night with carpal tunnel syndrome. They may also worsen when you do your usual work or tasks around the house.
When you place excess pressure on your wrist area, you can cause inflammation. Most commonly, this is caused by an issue within the wrist that reduces blood flow to the area. Some of the issues that lead to carpal tunnel include:
An underlying condition above can increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, but even healthy people can get it from the problems listed below:
Repetitive motion of the wrist (typing, playing an instrument, inflating a blood pressure cuff, hair cutting, and other things that use just the hand and wrist.
Placing your hands improperly on a computer keyboard
Working with power tools
If you have hand or wrist pain that does not go away and wakes you up during the night, you will need to see your doctor. They most often will take a thorough medical history. Let the doctor know what you do for hobbies or work. The doctor will look at your hands and wrists and have you perform a series of movements. Tests that may be ordered include:
X-Rays. To look for signs of inflammation or arthritis.
Electromyogram. This test uses a needle inserted into a muscle near the affected area. Impulses are measured while you are not using the muscle and then while you are using the muscle. This test is to rule out other conditions that affect the nerves.
Nerve Conduction Study. Electrodes are placed on the skin near the wrist, hand, and arm. Electrical impulses are sent through the electrode to check for response in the muscle. This test looks for carpal tunnel syndrome by the way the muscles react to impulses near the wrist.
There are a few different treatments the doctor will try at first to see if the wrist will heal on its own. These include:
NSAID’s (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These can help reduce inflammation and swelling. They also help with pain.
Steroids. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories. For carpal tunnel, corticosteroids are often injected directly into the wrist. Taking these orally does not really help carpal tunnel syndrome.
Splints. The doctor will have you splint your wrist while you work during the day and at night while you sleep. It also helps to splint your wrists at night during pregnancy.
If the above treatments do not help over time, the doctor may discuss surgical options with you. Usually an orthopedic surgeon will go in and remove the source of pressure and do nerve repair. The two types of carpal tunnel surgeries are:
Endoscopic. The surgeon will use a small endoscopy tube and camera to go into the wrist area through a very small incision. They can sever the ligament causing the pressure and the recovery is usually fast.
Open Incision. An incision is made into the hand near the wrist to cut the ligament and repair the nerve area. The ligaments will grow back together during recovery time.
Risks of surgery include infection, nerve or blood vessel damage, bleeding, and pain after surgery.
If you use your hands a lot, take breaks every two hours to rest your wrists.
Do not sleep on your hands at night.
Use a wrist splint while you sleep or during repetitive tasks.
Do wrist stretches, finger stretches and turn your wrists.
Use an over-the-counter medication for pain. It is best to use the anti-inflammatory type (ibuprophenor aspirin).
Alternative Medicine for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Use caution if you are taking blood thinners.
Turmeric. Turmeric can help relieve inflammation and pain. Turmeric should also be used with caution in people taking blood thinners.
Pineapple–Bromelain. A component of pineapple, has anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Rosemary Oil Massage. Rosemary oil has properties that can reduce pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles.
Use correct posture when using a computer, sitting, or working with your hands. Keep your head and neck straight and sit up in your chair.
Leaning back can cause you to hyperextend your wrists.
Keep your hands level and do not over bend at the wrists.
Keep your hands relaxed when writing or typing.
Alternate what you’re doing and switch to different activities whenever you can. For example, switch from computer work to filing or making phone calls.
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