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Carpal Tunnel: Risks, Symptoms, Tips, & Treatments

On the palm side of  your wrist is where the carpal tunnel is located. It is a very narrow passageway ‘holding’ the median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for sensation in the thumb and first three fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed. 


Photo credit: JOSPT


RISKS


There are many risk factors to developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common are Injury, change in body fluid, and your workplace. Breaking or injury of the wrist can decrease the size of the tunnel, the smaller the tunnel gets the more the nerve is compressed.  Also unfortunately women are predisposed to get carpal tunnel which could be due to a smaller tunnel and also body fluid. Body fluid plays a big factor in this as pregnant women and women going through menopause retain a lot of water. This alteration in body fluid can increase the pressure in the tunnel which ultimately irritates the nerve. Last risk factor is the most well known: your workplace. Any job that requires you to work with vibrating tools, in an assembly line, or sitting for extended hours at a computer are all contributors to increasing pressure in the  carpal tunnel 


SYMPTOMS 

  • Numbness

  • Tingling 

  • Drivign, typing, and holding things worsen the pain 

  • Shaking the hand relieves symptoms 

  • General hand weakness

  • Clumsiness with hand 

  • Dropping things 


TIPS


Sometimes it's out of  our control whether we develop carpal tunnel syndrome or not, but here are some tips of things in your control to remember. Taking breaks when typing or scrolling on a computer is a crucial step in preventative care. Realistically any action that forces you to flex your wrist  you need to take frequent breaks from. Avoid sleeping on your hands, wearing a night splint can help you avoid sleeping on your hands. Reducing overall force and grasp with your hands is another great preventative tip along with keeping them warm, pain is more easily developed in a cold environment. 


TREATMENT


Conservative treatment from a physical therapist BEFORE surgery might include:


  • Exercises to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand  

  • Tendon glides: these exercises allow your tendons to reach its greatest  amount of movement 

  • At home exercises (see photo below)

  • Ergonomic education/workspaces 

  • Anti-inflammatories 


If the pain is consistent and severe after a physical therapists conservative attempts, they may refer you to a surgeon. If surgery is needed, physical therapy after the procedure is crucial to restore your function and strength.



Photo credit: JOSPT


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