Preventing and Managing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

February 22, 2019

Woman with wrist pain
Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN

Do you feel pain in your hand and wrist, or forearm and arm after your work day? Chances are if you are performing repetitive tasks with your hands daily, such as computer use, it could be carpal tunnel syndrome, as nearly 50 percent of all work-related injuries are linked to this debilitating condition, and missing work is a common side effect. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common type of neuropathy, in which one of the body's peripheral nerves called the median nerve, "which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist." Preventing carpal tunnel is of utmost importance to avoid the pain and debilitating progression of this condition.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

The symptoms can vary, but some common ones are itching, burning and numbness in the palm of your hand and index and middle fingers. Fingers can often feel swollen without looking that way. Overnight, symptoms can be exacerbated as people wake up with the sensation of having to shake out their hands or wrists due to sleeping with flexed wrists. If you have nerve damage, hot and cold sensations may be difficult to feel, and grip strength may be compromised.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing carpal tunnel with stretching, frequent breaks, and adhering to correct posture and wrist position can help. To keep hands warm and flexible, fingerless gloves are recommended. If you've already been diagnosed with it, you have a choice between physical therapy and surgery. Physical therapy is encouraged as more than one-third of patients do not return to work within eight weeks after surgery.

Physical therapy for prevention of carpal tunnel, as well as alleviating the effects of it, are massaging of the neck and median nerve — as well as the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist and fingers. At home exercises, such as neck and arm stretching, are important to speed up recovery.

Combination Therapies

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise alone may not treat or prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, but used in conjunction with behavior changes, ergonomic work space adjustments, as well as a wrist or hand brace, it can be effective. A couple of simple exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome involve creating a fist and then opening your hand up wide like you are telling someone to stop; or fanning your fingers out to stretch them out as far as you can. Repeat these up to 10 times each. In addition, shaking your hands out can offer relief, as well as touching each finger to your thumb to create an "O" shape can stretch the hand and wrist out as well. You can also try movements that flex your wrist, extend and curl it, as well as hand grip exercises, in which you squeeze a soft ball or balled-up sock and hold it for five seconds; repeat 10 times. Many of these exercises work best if they are repeated at least three times per day.

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