Anyone who’s struggled with carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, knows the problem isn’t simply a matter of discomfort and pain. Compromised use of your hands is a serious matter, for earning a living or even just getting through your day. The pain of the condition can keep you awake at night, disturbing your sleep cycle at the very point when you need the recuperative powers that deep sleep provides.
CTS stems from compression of the median nerve where it passes through an oval tube of tissue in the wrist, called the carpal tunnel. There’s quite a bit going on in there, with nerves, blood vessels, and tendons sharing space. And, when adequate clearance for the median nerve is affected, irritation and inflammation put pressure on the nerve, creating the tell-tale sensations of CTS. These include tingling and numbness in the early stages and distracting discomfort and severe pain as the condition develops.
Left untreated, CTS can be debilitating, leading to loss of grip strength in the thumb and first three fingers. Women experience CTS about three times as often as men. The United States Department of Labor reports that the condition is the cause of almost half the lost-time cases in American workplaces.
When the symptoms of CTS begin, prompt attention assures the best chances of preventing permanent damage. The onset of symptoms can be subtle. You may be at risk if you perform a task for long hours that keep your hands and wrists in poor ergonomic form. Arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, or injury can also contribute to median nerve issues, so if you know you have risk factors, be aware of the early signs and seek treatment. CTS responds very well to self-care in its early stages, too.
There are other conditions that mimic the symptoms of CTS, so a visit to your doctor is the first step in getting an accurate diagnosis. Conservative treatment is typically effective in the early stages of the condition.
If you perform work or other activities that may be causing repetitive strain on your hands and wrists, reduce the time you spend on these tasks, or switch up the ergonomics. For long periods at a keyboard, for example, assure your workstation doesn’t add strain or poor posture. Use a cushioned pad under the heel of your hand.
Icing your wrist reduces inflammation and may provide enough relief to decompress the median nerve. Ten minutes every hour, when you’re symptomatic, is usually sufficient. Mix this with warm water soaks three or four times daily while rotating and flexing your wrist gently.
A purpose-made wrist splint can keep your wrist and hand in proper alignment, particularly at night, when your hand may become overextended without your awareness.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as the over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen, can both relieve pain and reduce swelling when used as directed.
Discomfort and pain from CTS may go beyond what you can relieve with care at home. The next step is to request an appointment with me by phone or online. At my CurePain office in Torrance, CA, I can explore more aggressive treatment options, such as occupational and physical therapy, corticosteroid treatments, and other modalities that may provide pain relief and prevent unnecessary surgery. Contact my office today.