Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Are You At Risk?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an injury that effects the median nerve and causes pain, weakness, and / or numbness in the hand and wrist. Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative to avoid potentially permanent damage and life long disability.
In this article Exercise Physiologist Eoghan McKenna takes us through the in’s and out’s of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and provides some easy to follow exercise tips that can lower your likelihood of developing the syndrome.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome typically occurs due to damage of the flexor tendons within the carpal tunnel. It is commonly caused by repetitive stress placed on the flexor tendons. Other etiologies include:
- Wrist arthritis – in particular rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pregnancy – hormones associated with pregnancy cause a general fluid build up.
- Wrist fractures – boney fragments can damage/irritate the flexor tendon.
- Congenital factors – some people are born with smaller carpal tunnels.
Who is at Risk?
As previously mentioned, repetitive stress through the flexor tendons leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Activities that can put you at high risk include:
- Keyboard typing
- Playing sports such as gymnastics, cycling golf or tennis
- Using tools (especially hand tools that vibrate and screwdrivers)
- Repetitive heavy lifting
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?
In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome will heal following rest and appropriate physiotherapy treatment. It is important to note that you cannot ‘work through’ carpal tunnel syndrome. Initially, it might present as mild pain or stiffness but as the condition progresses, it will lead to constant pain and nerve damage that can become permanent.
Non-surgical treatment options include:
- R.I.C.E – rest, ice, compression and elevation
- Physiotherapy – soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation, dry needling, anti-inflammatory medication
- Ergonomic assessment and correction
- Splints for the affected hand
- Diuretic medication to reduce your body’s fluid retention
- Corticosteroid injections into the affected area can reduce swelling
Surgical treatment is an option for carpal tunnel syndrome; however, it is secondary to conservative treatment. Surgery involves an incision in your palm (~5cm long) to expose the transverse carpal ligament. The surgeon then cuts this ligament to reduce pressure on the underlying median nerve. The incision is then sutured (closed). 4 weeks rest is advised post surgery.
Simple Exercises to Reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A. Wrist Extensor Stretch
Keeping your elbow straight with palm facing the ground, use your non-affected hand to curl your fingers around to your forearm. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 4 times.
Do not continue if there is any excessive pain.
B. Wrist Flexor Stretch
Keeping your elbow straight with palm facing the ground, use your non-affected hand to gently pull your towards the roof. Hold for 15 second and repeat 4 times. You should feel a mild to moderate (pain-free) stretch in your forearm.
Eoghan McKenna is an accredited Exercise Physiologist & Managing Director at Logic Health.