We don’t realize just how much we use our hands and wrists in our daily lives—until we begin experiencing pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder that causes pain and weakness in the hand and wrist that can affect the use of the whole arm. CTS develops from pressure on a nerve in the wrist — not the muscles, as some people believe. Affecting 1 out of 20 Americans, CTS is a common condition. Fortunately for most people who develop CTS, therapy can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, and arm without the need for surgery.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF CTS
CTS usually starts gradually, with symptoms such as burning or tingling. Often, the symptoms are more noticeable during the night, and individuals can be awakened by the pain. As the condition progresses, the symptoms are noticed during the daytime as well and often worse when holding items—you may find that you drop objects unexpectedly or have a weak grip.
HOW CAN A CERTIFIED HAND THERAPIST HELP?
After an evaluation, your handtherapist will prescribe your treatment plan based on your specific case. Depending on the causes of your CTS, your therapy program may include:
- Exercises to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, fingers, and forearm
- Stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of the wrist, hand and fingers
- Use of heat/cold treatments to relieve pain and reduce any inflammation of tissues in the wrist that puts pressure on the median nerve
- Massage to increase circulation and relax muscles
- Proper neck and upper back posture education—avoiding slouching
- You may be provided with a wrist splint to keep your wrist straight, generally at night
- Tips about daily activities including how to use your computer and keyboard and minimizing repetitive activities.
CAN CTS BE PREVENTED?
There are no proven ways to prevent CTS, but you can minimize the stress to your hands and wrists. The following strategies are effective ways to minimize stress to your hands and wrists.
- Take breaks. When doing repeated activities, give your hands a break by performing stretching exercises.
- Reduce force. Many people use more force than necessary when performing work with their hands. Relax your grip to avoid muscle fatigue and strain.
- Improve your posture. Believe it or not, proper alignment of your neck and shoulders can prevent excessive strain and improper positioning of the wrists and hands.
- Maintain good health. Staying physically fit and maintaining a healthy weight may help control diseases and conditions that may contribute to the onset of CTS.
- Neutral wrist position. Try to avoid bending your wrists by keeping them in a straight or “neutral” position. Your wrist should not be bent up or down.
As always, the goals of hand therapy are to reduce your symptoms without the need for surgery, to enable you to continue moving pain free, and to help you resume your normal activities.