If you’ve ever observed an ant farm, you’ve probably marveled at the tunnels the ants create in order to deliver food and get around. Did you know that there is a tunnel in your wrist that allows for nerves to travel and deliver messages, too? This narrow passageway is called the carpal tunnel and it is located on the under, or palm, side of your wrist. It protects the main nerve that travels from your forearm to your hand and the tendons that move your fingers. If this nerve is compressed, or pinched, it results in pain, tingling, and numbness of your thumb and fingers. Eventually your hand will weaken—a tell-tale sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms tend to build gradually, starting with sporadic numbness and tingling in your middle and index fingers, and your thumb. The pins and needles sensation can also affect your forearm, elbow, wrist and hand, worsening with use. You may experience stiffness in the morning as well, followed by loss of hand strength and finger grip as the condition progresses. As a result, you may have difficulty with even the simplest of tasks such as holding a fork, brushing your hair, or opening a jar. You may also tend to drop things as the numbness takes over and the muscles lose control.
What Carries Risks
Basically, anything that decreases the size of the carpal tunnel, increases the tissues within it, or aggravates the median nerve, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This hand and arm condition can be the result of underlying health problems, the make-up of your wrist, or the way in which you use your hands.
Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, hypothyroidism, gout, and obesity can reduce blood flow to your extremities, as well as cause joint and soft tissue swelling, both of which can put pressure on your median nerve. In addition, broken or dislocated bones, as well as bone growths, can impose on space in the tunnel.
Your pattern of use is a big factor as well. Those whose jobs entail repetitive or forceful hand movements, vibrations, continuous flexing, or awkward positions are most at risk. Because women tend to have smaller carpal tunnels, they are more likely to suffer from this condition. It is also often seen in pregnancy and menopause because of the excessive pressure from the fluid retention associated with each.
Treatments that Work
The best thing you can do is avoid activities that are causing pain. Obviously, that isn’t always easy when you’re talking about daily routines or your job. So, wearing a wrist splint can help. Also, taking frequent breaks and rotating or stretching your wrist will aid in easing discomfort. Anti-inflammatory medications and ice can also reduce swelling and pain. If the problem becomes chronic, corticosteroid injections may be recommended. If all else fails, the ligament pressing on the nerve can be surgically altered to relieve pressure.
Lighten the Load
You can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from coming on by reducing the amount of force you use, relaxing your grip, and not over-flexing your wrist. Keep your hands warm to ward off cold and stiffness, and remind yourself to sit up straight—bad posture can compress nerves! Cutting back on salt will reduce your fluid retention, as well, and making sure you eat right and exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight. Strengthen your arms and hands with a regular stretching routine. The experts at Castle Pines Physical Therapy can show you how.
If you are experiencing numbness and pain in your hand, elbow, or fingers and thumb, let us help curb your symptoms. Give Dr. Jennifer Molner a call at (303) 805-5156, or visit us at our Castle Pines, CO location. Having carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t have to be an uphill battle—we can help!