Carpel tunnel syndrome is a common problem of the hand and wrist. It happens when the nerves that run through narrow channels in the underside of the wrist get compressed. This causes pain, tingling, burning and numbness in the hand, wrist and arm.
Here we’re going to look at what causes it, how it’s treated and what you can do to prevent it.
What is carpel tunnel syndrome?
The median nerve runs along the underside of the wrist and into the hand. It helps you move your thumbs and the 1st 3 fingers on each hand. It lies in a special channel called the carpel tunnel which is made up of bones and other tissues such as ligaments and tendons.
If these other tissues become swollen they press on the median nerve and this causes the symptoms you get.
What are the symptoms of carpel tunnel syndrome?
If you have some of these symptoms you may well have carpel tunnel syndrome – one or both hands may be affected:
- Tingling, burning and/or numbness in the hands, fingers and wrists. The thumb, forefinger and middle finger are usually affected.
- You may feel that your thumb and fingers are swollen but there is little or no swelling to see.
- Pain in the palm of your hand, forearm or wrist.
- Pain/tingling/numbness that’s worse at night than during the day. The pain may cause you to wake up and want to shake your hands to get rid of it.
- The more you use the affected hand the more painful it becomes.
- Trouble gripping things like a cup, the car steering wheel or a door handle etc.
- Weakness in the hand and wrist.
- You may have difficulty telling the difference between hot and cold when you touch an object.
What causes carpel tunnel syndrome?
Doing the same tasks in the same way over and over again, over a long period of time can cause carpel tunnel syndrome. Tasks such as typing, playing a musical instrument, working on a packing line, needle work, production line working, gardening or canoeing are examples.
Some other medical diseases can predispose a person to getting carpel tunnel syndrome – diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes or an injury to the wrist.
Or you may have an inherited tendency to the problem – you inherit the build of the carpel tunnels, like everything else, from your parents.
Women are more likely than men to get carpel tunnel problems.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you plenty of questions about your health and the problem you’ve been having. She may ask you to bend the wrist down for a minute or so to see if this brings on the sensations, or she may tap the inside of the wrist, which will give a sensation like an electric shock.
She may also order tests such as nerve conduction studies to see what’s happening in the carpel tunnels and how the nerves are responding.
What is the treatment for carpel tunnel syndrome?
There are several treatments for the condition.
- Drug treatment includes trying non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen. These will help reduce the pain and bring down the swelling that’s causing the pain.
- Rest the hand as much as you can. This will be tough, especially if it’s your dominant hand. Try to do the tasks you usually do in a slightly different way and try to use your other hand to do tasks the affected hand does. Be patient with yourself, and persistent.
- Use the splint that your doctor will arrange for you. It will support the wrist and keep it still which will help to reduce the pain and discomfort and you can wear it at night.
- Ice over the area, massage and stretching exercises may also help.
- Your doctor may inject a steroid into the area if your symptoms are severe and not responding to the measures above. Steroids reduce the inflammation that’s causing the problem.
- If all else fails, surgery may be needed. Under anaesthetic, the surgeon will cut and release the ligament that’s putting pressure on the carpel tunnel. It takes about 4-6 weeks for the hand and wrist to recover completely and it’s very important to do the exercises that you’re given after surgery. Without them the hand and wrist become stiff and you won’t regain full use of them. If both hands are affected, one hand will be operated on and when it has fully recovered, the other will be addressed.
How can I prevent carpel tunnel syndrome?
Catching the symptoms and addressing them early is important.
If you’re overweight then losing weight will certainly help.
If an underlying disease is causing the problem then work with your doctor to get this under control.
Be aware of the tasks you do that bring on the symptoms. Try not to bend, extend or twist your hands for too long a period at a time. Talk to your supervisor at work to see if you can change your tasks.
Don’t rest with your wrists on a hard surface.
Change hands when doing repetitive tasks so that you’re using the non-affected hand.