Images of office workers typing furiously at their desk or hastily putting ink to paper while wearing a wrist wrap probably spring to mind when you hear the phrase “carpal tunnel syndrome”. Unless you’ve experienced it, it can be difficult to understand just how disabling this condition can be and how much it can interfere with your daily life. In fact, carpal tunnel surgery is the second most common type of surgery performed each year, as the syndrome annually affects over eight million individuals.
If you’re dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, there are some simple steps you can take to find relief for your pain and discomfort. There are also measures you can take to prevent the condition from developing in the first place. Let’s take a closer look.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what CTS is and what causes it. Education is a crucial step to prevention with any health ailment. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway made of ligament and bone that runs across the base of your hand on the palm side. This passageway is home to the median nerve, which runs from your forearm into your palm.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure is placed on your median nerve at the wrist, typically causing pain, numbness, tingling, or weakening of the fingers, hand, and/or wrist. Nerve pressure can be a result of a number of things, such as a wrist injury, repetitive hand motions, arthritis, and anything else that can cause swelling and inflammation. It is often difficult to pinpoint one singular cause of CTS.
How can I treat carpal tunnel syndrome?
The symptoms of CTS can range from mild to moderate or severe. Different types of remedies can be used to relieve symptoms, depending on the level and duration of pain and discomfort you experience. Here are a few treatment measures that can help:
1) Stretch your wrist.
While you want to avoid any extreme movements that can aggravate carpal tunnel pain, hand and wrist stretches can be useful in relieving some of the pressure on your median nerve. One effective stretch that is often recommended is making a fist, then slowly sliding your fingers out until they are straight and open. Repeat this movement five to ten times.
2) Temperature therapy.
Both heat and cold can be used to alleviate symptoms of CTS. Keeping your hands warm—using hand warmers, a warming compression sleeve, or even fingerless gloves—is helpful in reducing pain and stiffness. Alternate heat therapy with the use of ice to reduce swelling and inflammation.
3) Wearing a splint.
Wrist splints tend to be quite effective in carpal tunnel syndrome treatment, as they hold the wrist in a straight/neutral position that alleviates nerve pressure. Splints are especially helpful when worn at night and during work activities that require repetitive hand motions.
4) Over-the-counter pain relief.
For moderate carpal tunnel pain, OTC pain relievers (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.) can help manage your discomfort and reduce inflammation. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids to treat more severe pain.
In severe or prolonged cases, carpal tunnel release surgery may be necessary to alleviate your symptoms. As mentioned earlier, this procedure is the second most common surgery in the country. It involves making an incision in the wrist, through which a doctor can then physically sever the problem ligament to relieve pressure on the nerve.
How can I prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?
The best way to prevent the development of carpal tunnel syndrome is by making efforts to minimize stress and pressure on your hands and wrists. For example:
- Relax your grip when using a writing instrument and try to press keys more softly when typing.
- Take breaks from repetitive activities to give your hands a rest. Try alternating between tasks or just taking a few minutes each hour to bend and stretch your hands and wrists.
- Be mindful of your posture, especially while working at a desk. Poor posture can affect all areas of your body. Keeping your hands and wrists aligned with your forearm is particularly important for CTS prevention.
- When working in a cold environment, such as an air-conditioned office, you are more susceptible to developing pain and stiffness. Keeping your hands warm can help reduce your chances of experiencing carpal tunnel pain.
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