Managing pain from carpal tunnel syndrome may include rest, wearing a wrist splint and performing special wrist exercises. In more severe cases, medications and surgery may be required.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can result in severe wrist pain and an inability to use the affected hand for day-to-day tasks. Managing pain from carpal tunnel may include rest, special exercises and the use of splints. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
Here are some tips to help manage your carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Rest: Avoid activities that worsen your symptoms, and try taking frequent breaks during the day to let the affected hand rest.
- Apply cold packs: Wrap some ice in a bag and place it over the swelling.
- Repeat the procedure every two hours for 10 minutes each.
- You may also use a cold pack available in the market.
- Warm water compresses may also help in some cases.
- Wrist splinting: Various splints are available at the pharmacy.
- Workplace ergonomics: Simple measures such as using a specifically designed work chair with an armrest, using elbow and wrist supports while working on a computer and placing your wrists above the keyboard while typing can help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
- When setting up your work area, arrange your table such that your forearms are parallel to the floor or slightly lowered.
- Make sure your hands and wrists are in line with your forearms and hold your elbows close to your sides.
- Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand or your wrist.
- You may consider using a different keyboard, such as a split, V-shaped keyboard.
- Another way is to try changing the way you grip your tool/instrument while working (such as a mouse).
- Wrist exercises: Simple exercises such as turning the wrists round in the shape of figure eight, using stress balls, clenching and unclenching a wrist multiple times a day and shaking the wrist (like you are shaking off water droplets from your fingers) can help relax the hand muscles.
- Other exercises include touching the tip of each finger to the tip of your thumb so that they make an O-shape.
- Another effective way to strengthen and stretch the wrist muscles is to start with your hand in a straight, neutral position and bend it toward you so your fingers point toward the ceiling. After holding this for five seconds, return to the neutral position. Now, bend your hand away from you so that your fingers point toward the floor and hold for five seconds. Return to a straight, neutral position.
- All these exercises must be performed in sets of 10 repetitions at least three times a day.
- Medications: If you experience moderate to severe pain, you can take a dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) two times a day for three days till the swelling subsides.
- Surgery: In severe cases where you experience extreme pain and tingling or numbness in the hand or if your symptoms last for more than 10 months, your doctor may advise surgery.
- The surgery involves cutting the band of tissue in the wrist that crosses the median nerve to lessen the pressure over the nerve.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
A Carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in the wrist surrounded by bones and ligaments on the palmar side of your hand where a nerve that supplies two-thirds of the hand (median nerve) passes through this tunnel. Due to the anatomy of the tunnel and the superficial location of the nerve, the median nerve is susceptible to swelling due to pressure or compression. When the median nerve is compressed, symptoms are numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand, especially the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger.
The most common professions where we see carpal tunnel syndrome are the ones where there is repeated flexing and extending of the wrists as seen in cashiers, hairdressers, knitters or even bakers (kneading dough). Constant typing on laptops without proper arm support may also predispose you to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Other causes of carpal tunnel syndrome are:
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
In most cases, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome begin without any history of injury. They are intermittent, but as the condition worsens, symptoms come more frequently. In severe cases, symptoms are constant.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Tingling and pain felt in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers
- A burning sensation in the wrist
- Occasional shock-like sensations that radiate to the thumb and three fingers
- Visible swelling over the wrist and base of the thumb
- An inability to move the wrist and clumsiness in the hand, making it difficult to perform tasks such as buttoning your clothes or tying shoelaces
Pain often worsens at night and may even affect sleep quality.
If symptoms do not relent after 10 days of fomentation, rest and medications, you may need to visit an orthopedic surgeon. They will conduct a physical examination and advise tests such as sonography of the carpal tunnel, electrophysiologic tests of the median nerves and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; in severe cases).
They may suggest appropriate treatment options including: