Better Rehabilitation, Faster Recovery

Understanding Carpal Tunnel & How to Treat It

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common, painful disorder of the wrist and hand.

How does it occur?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. People who use their hands and wrists repeatedly in the same way (e.g. working at a computer) tend to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

Pressure on the nerve may also be caused by a fracture or other injury, which may may cause inflammation and swelling. In addition, pressure may be caused by inflamation and swelling associated with arthritis, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.

What are the symptoms?
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in your hand and wrist, especially in the thumb and index and middle fingers.
  • Increased pain with increased use of your hand, such as when you are driving.
  • Increased pain at night.
  • Weak grip and dropping objects. See doctor immediately.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Muscle deterioration especially in the thumb (in later stages).

How is it diagnosed? Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms, examine you, and discuss the ways you use your hands. They may also do the following tests:
  • Tap the inside middle of your wrist over the median nerve. You may feel pain or a sensation like an electric shock.
  • You may be asked to bend your wrist down for one minute to see if this causes symptoms.
  • Your provider may arrange to test the response of your nerves and muscles to electrical stimulation.

How is it treated?

If you have a disease that is causing carpal tunnel syndrome (such as rheumatoid arthritis), treatment of the disease may relieve your symptoms. Other treatments focus on relieving irritation and pressure on the nerve in your wrist. To relieve pressure your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Restricting use of your hand or changing the way you use it.
  • Changing your work station (the position of your desk, computer, and chair) in a way that irrritates your wrist less.
  • Wearing a wrist splint.
  • Exercises and physical therapy. Here are some easy exercises that you can do at home.
Your provider may prescribe an oral cortison-like medicine or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen. He or she may recommend an injection of a cortisone-like medicine into the carpal tunnel area. In some cases surgery may be necessary (adults aged 65 years and older should not take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine for more than 7 days without their healthcare provider's approval).

When can I return to my sport or activity?

In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. You may return to your sport or activity when you are able to painlessly grip objects like a tennis racquet, bat, golf club, or bicycle handlebars. In sports such as gymnastics, it is important that you can bear weight on your wrist without pain.

How can I prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel is best prevented by having taking breaks and avoiding repetitive motions. If you have a job that requires you to be in one position all day (e.g. work at a computer all day), it is very important to take breaks and relax your hand and wrist.

How can I take care of myself? Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations. Also try the following:
  • Elevate your arm with pillows when you lie down.
  • Avoid activities that overuse your hand.
  • When you use a computer mouse, use it with the hand that does not have carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Find a different way to use your hand by using another tool or try to use the other hand.
  • Avoid bending your wrists.

Carpal Tunnel Rehabilitation Exercises

Time to Completion: 5 minutes. You can do these exercises right away.

Exercise 1: Wrist Stretch Palm Up - Repeat 5 times
  1. 1

    Put your arm with the injured wrist in front of you.

  2. 2

    With the other hand, help to stretch the wrist by gently pressing the fingers backwards towards you.

  3. 3

    Keep your elbow straight. Hold for 15 seconds, then relax.

Exercise 2: Wrist Stretch Palm Down - Repeat 5 times
  1. 1

    Put your arm with the injured wrist in front of you.

  2. 2

    With the other hand, help to bend the wrist in front of you down by gently pressing the back of your hand.

  3. 3

    Keep your elbow straight. Hold for 15 seconds, then relax.

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