Carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as median nerve compression, is a condition that causes numbness, tingling, and weakness in your hand.
“Not all hand pain is carpal tunnel syndrome, of course,” says Dr. Burg. “It’s a very specific nerve issue with telltale signs. When the carpal tunnel, a passageway in your wrist, becomes too crowded because of inflammation or compression, you get pressure on your median nerve.”
Most symptoms are severe during the night. However, you may also experience numbness and tingling in your hands during the day. Over time, your hands become weak and it becomes difficult to hold things.
How to Fight Carpal Tunnel
Step 1: Get a Proper Diagnosis
Early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage. Expect your physician to carry out several tests during the visit. These include:
EMG and nerve conduction: The test will assess whether all your nerves are functioning properly.
Visual and physical exam: The doctor will examine your muscles and take note of any muscle loss.
Tinel’s sign: Your doctor will conduct an examination that involves tapping the underside of the wrist to trigger symptoms.
Phalen’s sign: Similar to tinel’s sign, this examination is done by triggering symptoms. In this case, the patient puts their hand in a position, similar to praying, and lets them fall forward naturally.
It is crucial to note that carpal tunnel syndrome can be triggered by conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, among others. Therefore, expect your doctor to inquire about your overall health status.
“On the whole, treatment will target the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Dr. Burg. “But it’s important to know how it fits into the big picture. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, treating it may reduce your carpal tunnel symptoms, too.”
Step 2: Wear Splints
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms are more common at night especially when you’re trying to sleep.
“It is tough to control your wrists while you sleep,” says Dr. Burg.”That’s why many patients have nighttime symptoms. Wearing a wrist splint can make a big difference because it keeps your wrists straight, avoiding pressure on your nerve.”
The initial treatment involves wearing a splint at night and sometimes during the day. Besides splinting, it is important to avoid daytime activities that provoke symptoms such as typing on a computer keyboard, knitting, or other repetitive activities.
You can also seek help from an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist will recommend exercises to help stretch and strengthen your hand and wrist muscles. They will also guide you on how to change your routine motions in a way that eases stress on your hand and wrist.
“You can try anti-inflammatory for pain relief, too, but the relief they provide may be minimal,” he says. “The same is true of ice. Icing other types of hand or wrist conditions provide relief, but the issues with carpal tunnel are often deep enough that ice won’t offer much help.”
According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, patients should seek a doctor’s advice on prescription medicine as well as alternative therapy like acupuncture or chiropractic care.
Step 3: Seek Medical Therapy
If symptoms persist, even after wearing splints, your carpal tunnel syndrome doctor may recommend cortisone injections.
“For many, injections provide relief for months or even years,” says Dr. Burg. “But these shots can weaken tissue over time, so we don’t use them for extended time periods. We typically won’t recommend more than two in a year.”
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery. Carpal tunnel release is a common surgical procedure, which is often done under local anesthesia. It does not require an overnight hospital stay, and patients can return to their daily activities within six weeks.
After surgery, your carpal tunnel syndrome doctor may encourage you to continue wearing the splint for several weeks. You may also alter your work habits to avoid reoccurrence.