You shouldn't be caught holding the bag when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in your hand, thumb, and wrist as well as reduced strength in your fingers which can weaken your ability to grip. This can make simple tasks such as picking up small objects using a pinch grasp that much more difficult. However, recognizing and properly dealing with your carpal tunnel can greatly reduce the effects and help you to ease the symptoms so that you can regain function of your wrist and hand.
Basics of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of compression of your median nerve where it runs through the small tunnel in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. Compression is caused by a thickening of the lining of any irritated tendons or additional swelling which narrows the passage that the median nerve passes through.
Your median nerve provides feeling to the palm side of your thumb as well as the middle, index, and parts of your index fingers. It should not affect your little finger or pinky. It also controls some of your small muscles at the base of your thumb.
The result of compression of your median nerve is pain and weakness in your wrist and hand, occasionally affecting areas of your arm such as the forearm. You may also experience tingling, burning, or an itching numbness in your palm and the associated fingers. You may find that your fingers feel swollen and useless despite no discernable swelling. You can also develop a weakness that makes it difficult to grasp small objects, form a fist, and/or perform other types of manual tasks.
Often the symptoms of carpal tunnel begin to appear during the night since you may sleep with flexed wrists. This can cause you to feel as though you need to 'shake out' your hand or wrist upon waking up. As the symptoms progress, you may experience symptoms during the day such as tingling. If left untreated, symptoms can even increase to the point that the muscles at the base of your thumb begin to waste away. You may even find that it can cause trouble with discerning cold and hot sensations by touch.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome often develops as the result of a combination of circumstances which minimize the overall space for your median nerve inside of the carpal tunnel. Factors that can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Trauma to your wrist which causes inflammation and swelling
- Mechanical issues within your wrist
- Overexertion and overextension
- Repetitive activities that cause your tendons to swell called tenosynovitis
- Fractures or breaks of the bones in your wrists
- Growth of new bone during the healing process
Carpal tunnel syndrome is especially common as a result of repetitive and/or forceful hand and wrist movements. This can be aggravated by prolonged periods of activity in which your wrist or hand is in an awkward position such as an extension or flexing. It can also be exacerbated by consistent hand-arm vibration over time. Activities that can lend themselves to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome include playing an instrument, manual labor, and use of vibrating tools.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome there are some healthy habits that you can implement to reduce the effects and gain some relief.
Dealing with Carpal Tunnel
Managing the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome may significantly improve your chances of slowing or relieving some or many of the symptoms that you may experience. Strategies for dealing with your carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Taking a timeout - If you are an avid musician, use hand tools, or engage in other repetitive activities you should take a time out every so often to stretch and wiggle your fingers. This simple activity can help to improve blood flow to affected or at risk areas.
Lighten your load - If you find that when you are writing, typing, and/or gripping you strain or apply more force than necessary, you should consciously reduce the force that you are using.
Wear supports - Braces and splints can help straighten, support, and stabilize your wrist which can reduce the pressure placed on your median nerve. This should make working with carpal tunnel syndrome much easier on you, and possibly even reduce the symptoms such as pain, tingling, and/or numbness.
Keep it neutral - You should be aware of activities which require prolonged extension or flexion of your wrist in extreme directions. It is always a best practice to try to keep your wrist in a neutral position. This alignment can even have the potential effect of improving the performance of your hand and wrist.
Stretch out - When you take breaks from repetitive activities or you happen to be in a setting where you are not using your hands, you can do some simple wrist exercises to help increase flexibility, your range of motion, and help to reduce tension or stiffness.
Warm it up - Keeping your wrists and hands warm can help to combat symptoms such as stiffness and pain.
Elevate yourself - If you are dealing with fluid retention that is causing unnecessary pressure then elevating your wrists and hands when possible can help to alleviate the symptoms.
When dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, a proactive approach can help you counteract and even possibly reduce the effects which can make everyday tasks more difficult. The key is to recognize the causes and symptoms which can result in excess pressure on your median nerve and address them as soon as possible. Implementing healthy habits before symptoms are present can also significantly reduce the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.