Most people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome because tens of millions of people are experiencing its symptoms each year. The painful disorder exists when the carpal tunnel in the wrist that protects the median nerve is compressed. The compression is due to inflammation causing swelling in the tendons and ligaments in the carpal tunnel, creating pressure on the median nerve.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may disappear when swelling goes down and relieves the pressure. However, millions of people live with the condition on a daily basis. The carpal tunnel syndrome is painful and leads to hand and wrist weakness, making it difficult to accomplish certain activities in personal and work lives.
Symptoms and Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Living with carpal tunnel syndrome is not easy because the hand and wrist are involved in most activities. It is often thought of as a repetitive motion condition, but can develop due to:
- repetitive movements;
- injury to the wrist, like a fracture;
- arthritic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, gout);
- wrist or hand deformity.
The symptoms develop slowly and include:
- numbness in hands;
- finger pain or tingling;
- pain that spreads from the palm and into the finger;
- decreased feeling in the fingertips;
- swollen hand;
- weakness in the hand;
- inability to perform certain tasks requiring dexterity;
- frequent dropping of items because of lack of feeling and weakness in the hand.
In severe cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may shrink. The fingers affected are the ones served by the nerve running through the carpal tunnel: thumb, middle finger, ring finger and index finger.
Daily Activities Impacted by Carpal Tunnel
For the activities of daily living carpal tunnel syndrome can have a measurable impact. Carpal tunnel syndrome can make it difficult to complete even simple tasks, like buttoning a shirt or twisting a jar lid. The disease also makes it difficult for people who do repetitive tasks on a regular basis. What type of jobs can trigger carpal tunnel syndrome? They include:
- office jobs requiring a lot of typing;
- technology jobs requiring a lot of keyboarding or data entry;
- manufacturing plant assembly line workers doing repetitive work;
- cleaning professionals;
- construction workers using hand hammers and other tools that jar the wrist.
Some of the simplest daily and work activities become difficult and painful. It can prevent people from being able to pick up small objects, maintain the rate of task completion at work, force a person to choose a different occupation, affect the ability to enjoy hobbies and prevent someone from participating in recreational activities.
The carpal tunnel disease is not a life threatening condition but it can significantly lower the quality of life. When people cannot enjoy life because of pain, numbness or weakness in the hands and wrists, they are exhausted mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.
Self-Care for Pain Relief
A lot of people choose to avoid surgery for the carpal tunnel condition, so it is important to adopt a self-treatment plan. Carpal tunnel that is left untreated can lead to permanent muscle (atrophy) and nerve damage in the hand and wrist.
Carpal tunnel syndrome daily exercises to help pain management
- Wear a wrist splint or brace at night (many people sleep with their wrist flexed and wake up with numbness) and at times throughout the day.
- Shake and then hang the hand over the side of the bed at night.
- Take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Take changes at the workstation that ensure the arm, keep wrists and hands aligned and in a neutral position, i.e. raise the desk chair or adjust the keyboard’s height.
- Maintain awareness of wrist and alignment while performing any repetitive task, making corrections as necessary.
- Take frequent breaks from any task that causes discomfort in the wrist and hand.
- Do stretching hand and wrist exercises each day that increase grip strength and reduce tightness in the wrist.
- Ice the wrist twice a day.
- Immerse the hand in warm water twice a day and flex the wrist.
- Carefully follow the pain treatments recommended by your physician.
Until the symptoms improve, stop doing activities that may be contributing to carpal tunnel symptoms. If the self-care treatment plan does not bring enough relief, physical therapy sessions often help. Surgery is always an option; it brings relief in 90 % of the cases.