It all starts with a gradual ache in your hand and wrist – and before you know it, the pain coupled with tingling and weakness sets in. You don’t remember hurting yourself, but before long, you find difficulty in even the simplest activities!
You may be experiencing what medical professionals call carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel is caused by increased pressure on the median nerve which enters the hand from the forearm through a tunnel (the carpal tunnel) to your wrist. The affected hand may begin to feel numb or tingly, like the pins and needles sensation after your foot falls asleep. Normally these sensations are felt in the thumb and forefinger, but can spread throughout the whole hand.
Carpal tunnel symptoms can occur from a concurrent illness or physical condition such as arthritis, obesity or diabetes or a repetitive motion strain like constantly flexing your wrist up and down. But regardless of its origin this nerve entrapment disorder is the number one cause of occupational cumulative trauma. In fact over eight million people suffer from carpal tunnel. And women are twice as likely to sustain this problem.
Carpal tunnel is so common it is second behind back injuries as the leading cause of lost time at work and total medical costs. And though it may sound trivial, carpal tunnel can interfere with daily activities.
Pain is pain, no matter where it is located. And pain disrupts your overall wellbeing. But there is hope to help you cope with this annoying, disruptive disorder.
According to medical experts, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce the discomfort and inflammation of carpal tunnel. Acetaminophen on the other hand can help decrease the pain but does nothing for the inflammation.
Medical experts also recommend using an ice pack, which also can reduce the swelling. But care must be taken with ice. It should be applied for no longer than ten to fifteen minutes at a time or you run the risk of freezing the tissues. Heat on the other hand only increases the local swelling.
Taking short frequent breaks to stretch is beneficial. A full body stretch with your hands above your head can relieve muscular tension and improve posture which aids in proper positioning of hands for specific tasks. Performing hand circles (rotation of your wrists) exercises all the muscles of the wrist while restoring circulation.
Avoid letting your hands hang down at your sides when taking a break. In fact the most beneficial position to alleviate symptoms during a break is to keep hands shoulder height and pointing towards the ceiling. The same thing goes for sleeping position. Hanging hands over the side of the bed will only increase the pressure on the nerve making carpal tunnel pain and tingling worse. Keep your hands on the bed and your wrists as straight as possible. If tingling still remains, try making a fist then stretch fingers all the way straight.
Avoid ace wrapping wrists as this can cut off the circulation to the area and cause more problems. Sometimes however, splint usage is recommended for carpal tunnel symptoms to help keep wrists straight. This keeps the pressure off of the nerve. The best type gives support without being totally rigid. Proper fit is important. It should fit in the palm of your hand with your fingers and thumb free. If you think a splint will help the best thing to do is to consult with a qualified medical professional such as a physical therapist or occupational therapist. Splint usage can be beneficial for day or night use.
Try to watch the way you use your hands. Make sure handle grips fit your hand. If it is too small, build it up with tape or rubber tubing – too big, consider another type of handle. Or perhaps you may need to reevaulate the way you use certain tools or utensils. Try not to concentrate the pressure at the base of the wrist as this may exacerbate symptoms. Experiment with different hand positioning to see which one causes less discomfort.
Carpal tunnel, though not life threatening can be life altering. Anything from your job to writing a check can be bothersome. The good news is getting a grip on the pain is possible in most cases. But for those people whose pain is out of control, seeking the advice of a physician is your best option as there are other measures that can be taken, like massage therapy, acupuncture and surgical techniques. And if pain is accompanied with a crackling or crunching sensation, it may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as osteoarthritis.
So taking a little bit of time to break old habits and make new healthy ones, like stretching and exercising hand and wrist muscles just may be the answer you’ve been searching for to help break the painful cycle of symptoms known as carpal tunnel.