Confidently overcome your carpal tunnel syndrome
by changing how you use your hands and wrist
Most people use their hands throughout most of the day, especially for work-related tasks. But in some professions—like assembly line work and jobs that use vibrating hand tools—the repetitive motions involved can actually damage the wrist over time and lead to a painful condition called carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). This is a condition caused by compression of a nerve in the wrist that leads to symptoms in the hand and wrist, but it can be managed by making some simple changes to the way movements are performed.
The carpal tunnel is a space at the base of the palm that contains several tendons and the median nerve, which provides sensation to the fingers. If these tendons thicken or any other swelling occurs in the area, this tunnel narrows, which puts pressure on the median nerve and leads to CTS. For this reason, CTS is considered a nerve compression syndrome, and it’s by far the most common type, affecting about 5% of the population.
Symptoms usually start with a burning or tingling sensation, but eventually pain, weakness and/or numbness develop in the hand and wrist, and then radiate up the arm. As CTS progresses, symptoms usually get worse when holding certain items, and hand weakness and numbness may occur more frequently if this pressure on the nerve continues.
The greatest risk factor for developing CTS is any task that requires repetitive hand motion, awkward hand positions, strong gripping, mechanical stress on the palms, or vibration. CTS can therefore occur in any line of work that involves one or more of these components. Office work and repetitive typing may be a potential cause, but the chances of developing CTS are three times higher in assembly line work like manufacturing and meatpacking. Other professions that have a high risk for CTS include sewing, baking, cleaning, sports like racquetball and handball, and playing string instruments like the violin.
Education and exercise to combat CTS
The best way to deal with CTS is to learn how to avoid movements that will make the compression worse, and then address the damage present with exercises and pain-relieving interventions. Our physical therapists recommend the following:
- Change your wrist positions and avoid bending your wrist for too long
- Use proper neck and back posture, and avoid slouching
- Keep your wrists straight when using tools and also while sleeping
- Try to avoid flexing and extending your fingers and wrists repeatedly
- Minimize repetitive, strong grasping with the wrist in a flexed position
- Take frequent breaks to rest your hands and wrists
- Modify your tools to make a more comfortable grip
- Use anti-vibration gloves or wraps when using vibrating tools
- Ice/heat to relieve pain
- Strengthening exercises for the wrist, hand, and fingers
- Stretching exercises for the wrist, hand, and fingers
- A night splint to reduce discomfort
If you’re dealing with any hand or wrist symptoms that sound like CTS, it’s probably time to see a physical therapist for a structured treatment program that will target your impairments and teach you how to preserve your wrist from future issues.