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Alleviating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Treatments & Physical Therapy

Updated: Apr 4

Carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition causing pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and wrist, is a very common condition in the digital age. Fortunately, there are a wide array of treatment options available ranging from self-care and medication to physical therapy and surgery. This comprehensive blog post will delve into the various treatment approaches for carpal tunnel syndrome, helping you to make an informed decision to find relief from this disruptive condition.


Man clutching his wrist in pain.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?


The carpal tunnel is a narrow structure at the base of the hand which contains the tendons responsible for bending your fingers as well as the median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for motor function and sensation in the thumb, index, middle, and one side of the ring finger, whereas the ulnar nerve controls the pinky and the side of the ring finger facing the pinky. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed as it passes through the tunnel.


Carpal tunnel diagram

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


There are a few key factors that contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome:

  1. Wrist Anatomy & Health Conditions: anatomical factors such as bony abnormalities or a narrow carpal tunnel, as well as conditions like arthritis, diabetes, or a fracture, can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Age-related health conditions can also increase the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

  2. Repetitive Motions & Overuse: repeating the same movement over and over can cause the tendons within the carpal tunnel to become inflamed, compressing the median nerve. Repetitive tasks like typing, using handheld tools, or playing instruments can contribute to this inflammation. Jobs that require a lot of hands-on work can put you at greater risk, this includes occupations like cosmetology, cooking and baking, office work, and assembly line work.

  3. Hormones: swelling and fluid retention caused by hormonal changes, like pregnancy or menopause, can increase pressure on the median nerve.


Carpal Tunnel Symptoms


Noticing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can help you to intervene and find a solution.


  1. Pain & Discomfort: pain in the hand and wrist which can radiate further up the arm. This pain can be a sharp, stabbing pain, or a persistent, dull ache.

  2. Tingling & Numbness: due to the compression of the median nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome often causes a sensation of tingling or pins-and-needles in the fingers. This nerve compression can also lead to numbness in the affected hand.

  3. Weakness & Muscle Atrophy: carpal tunnel can cause the muscles of the hand to become progressively weaker, impacting the ability to perform fine motor skills.



Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment Options


Self-Treatments

Try these interventions as soon as symptoms start to see if they resolve on their own. If your carpal tunnel syndrome is in the early stages with mild symptoms, these steps could make it go away. If you are experiencing numbness or severe pain, see a healthcare professional for more advanced treatment options.

  1. Avoid activities that make the pain worse.

  2. Take frequent breaks during hands-on tasks.

  3. Apply ice packs on the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation.


Non-Invasive Treatments

  1. Pain Relief Medications: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen can provide short-term pain relief but are not a long-term solution.

  2. Wrist Splinting: wearing a wrist splint, even if you are only able to wear it at night, can improve symptoms of tingling and numbness by taking pressure off of the median nerve.

  3. Physical Therapy: a skilled physical therapist can guide you through techniques and exercises to reduce symptoms, improve wrist function, and prevent further complications.

  4. Corticosteroid Injections: a physician may inject the area with corticosteroids to decrease inflammation and alleviate pain.


Surgical Treatment

If carpal tunnel symptoms are severe or are not responding to other treatment options, surgery may be considered. Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome involves cutting a ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve. If you have severe or persistent symptoms, consult your physician on the best treatment option for you. If you choose to pursue therapy consider seeking post-op physical therapy to help improve your healing process. Post-surgical PT can help to reduce scar tissues, restore strength, and prevent reinjury.



Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel


Physical therapy offers a non-invasive treatment option for carpal tunnel syndrome. PT treatment focuses on reducing pain, regaining functionality, and preventing reinjury. Carpal tunnel treatments could include:

  1. Exercises - PTs will demonstrate effective exercises to improve strength and flexibility of the hand and forearm.

  2. Manual Therapy - the physical therapist will utilize techniques to mobilize the effected area. These methods work to reduce inflammation and improve wrist mobility.

  3. Pain Management - PTs will offer advice on how to manage and avoid pain from carpal tunnel.

  4. Activity Modifications - your physical therapist will suggest improvements to your workstation, activities, and posture to facilitate better ergonomics and reduce the stress put on your wrist.



Let's Put Carpal Tunnel in the Past


Carpal tunnel can make even the simplest of tasks painful; seeking treatment could be your path to a pain-free lifestyle! At Rehab United Seattle, we help patients regain their ability to enjoy their work and hobbies again. Our treatment plans prioritize not only helping you feel better, but ensuring you have the tools to prevent recurring pain. Book a consultation to get started!




 

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