Do you ever find yourself shaking your hand and wrist because your first three fingers have “fallen asleep”? You may have been told you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpals are the bones that make up your wrist and the carpal tunnel is formed by these bones and ligaments allowing for the passage of tendons and the median nerve. Compression on the median nerve is responsible for giving you the sensation of your hand “falling asleep.”
In carpal tunnel syndrome, there is less space in the tunnel resulting in the contents being compressed. Nerves are sensitive to this compression and can cause numbness or tingling in your thumb, index, middle, and half of your ring finger. In more severe cases, it can also result in weakness of your hand muscles. Often symptoms start gradually, or it may wake you occasionally during the night, but overall doesn’t interfere with your life. As it progresses, symptoms may become more frequent or more bothersome impacting your daily life.
Evidence has shown that risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome include computer work, gardening, forceful grip, high repetitions of the same action with your hand among others. There is also moderate evidence that being physically active or exercising can decrease your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome will look to see if any modifiable factors can be changed to help alleviate symptoms. Looking at the setup of your computer, mouse, or other frequent activities can help to make sure that your body is positioned optimally to decrease any unnecessary stress. A physical therapist can also be beneficial for determining exercises and stretching that can help with decreasing symptoms. They will look at your arm, neck, and posture for any contributing factors.
In some patients, it may be recommended to wear a wrist brace, especially at night, to help improve symptoms. Often while sleeping, your wrist may be in a position that increases symptoms, so wearing a brace can help prevent night pain. The brace helps keep your wrist straight, alleviating symptoms and aiding in nonsurgical treatment.
In some patients, surgery may be needed. However, it is beneficial to trail non-surgical treatment first, and your physical therapist is a great person to help guide you through it. If carpal tunnel syndrome sounds like something you may be experiencing, schedule an evaluation with them today.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline on the Management of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome http://www.orthoguidelines.org/topic?id=1020. Published February 29, 2016