Among the various nerve entrapment injuries and syndromes that affect Americans, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common. This issue bothers up to six percent of Americans at any given time, leaving them with a variety of annoying, potentially debilitating symptoms.
If you have pain, weakness, loss of sensation, or tingling sensations in your wrist and the first two fingers of your hand, you may struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if your work includes stressful, repetitive wrist positions or motions. Fortunately, the following four treatment options can help you obtain relief.
1. Physical Therapy
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which conducts sensation and motor commands through the wrist to the hand, becomes pinched by neighboring tissues, usually due to inflammation, swelling, or tightness in those tissues. Physical therapy offers a non-invasive strategy for reducing nerve tension.
Exercises can free up a trapped, pinched median nerve. Some exercises achieve this relief by loosening and lengthening the fascia (a kind of connective tissue) surrounding the nerve, or even the nerve itself. Others focus on relaxing the flexor muscles in the wrist, easing cramps and improving range of motion.
Your treatment plan may include simple but effective exercises, such as shaking out your hands, pressing your fingers together in an exercise known as spider push-ups, and holding your outstretched wrist downward with your opposite hand.
Other physical therapy modalities that reduce pain and swelling can enhance your treatment plan. For example, your doctor may prescribe periodic ice baths for your hand and wrist or immersion in warm water as a prelude to gentle stretches. A wrist brace may prevent awkward wrist positions during sleep or work.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve nerve pressure by shrinking swollen tissues around the median nerve. Common over-the-counter products, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, may provide at least partial relief for hours at a time. However, constant reliance on these drugs can cause stomach problems and other side effects.
Corticosteroids offer a more powerful alternative for carpal tunnel syndrome if over-the-counter drugs fail to reduce swelling adequately. While you may receive these steroids in pill form, injections directly into the wrist (with ultrasound imaging to help target the injection site) usually deliver more effective results.
Some people may need a more invasive approach to carpal tunnel treatment. If you have naturally narrow carpal tunnels in your wrists, for example, or if conservative care simply doesn’t produce the results you want after several months of treatment, you may need to address the problem surgically.
Carpal tunnel surgery comes in two primary forms. In the traditional open surgery, the neurosurgeon makes an incision from the wrist to the palm, then cuts the transverse carpal ligament that partly defines the carpal tunnel space, relieving nerve compression. Endoscopic surgery also cuts this ligament, but it uses much smaller incisions.
Both open and endoscopic carpal tunnel surgeries can achieve good results. Whichever form of surgery you undergo, you can expect some discomfort in the weeks that follow as the tissues heal. Your neurosurgeon may recommend bracing and restricted activity to help the wrist heal as successfully as possible.
You may experience reduced grip or pinch strength in the affected hand following the surgery. This issue should improve within a couple of months unless your median nerve suffered significant damage from the compression, in which case you’ll have to give the nerve more time to recover.
Long periods of activity or light activity can contribute to atrophy of the wrist or hand muscles during your recuperation from carpal tunnel surgery. Ask your neurosurgeon whether a course of physical therapy exercises might help you regain your strength and flexibility more quickly and completely.
4. Lifestyle Changes
Carpal tunnel syndrome may involve both genetic factors (such as the naturally narrow wrists discussed above) and external factors that cause repetitive motion strain. If you suffer from chronic or recurring symptoms, you may benefit from changing certain aspects of your everyday life and work activities.
Poor workplace ergonomics can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Position your mouse, keyboard, and desk at the proper height to support straight wrists. Avoid slumping in your chair or rolling your shoulders forward. Type or use your work tools with just enough force to do the job instead of over-exerting your wrists needlessly.
Athletes who hold a racket or club may also develop carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive stress or faulty technique. If your tennis or golf game creates pain and suffering for your wrists, reduce your training schedule and consider altering your grip or swing. The results may improve your game as well as your comfort.
Since other conditions (such as cervical radiculopathy) can mimic carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll want to receive an accurate diagnosis of your nerve dysfunction before proceeding with any kind of treatment. Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates can perform nerve conduction tests and other diagnostic procedures as well as personalized surgical and non-surgical carpal tunnel treatment. Contact any of our locations today.