Author: Emma Mason
Do you experience pain, numbness or weakness in your hand and fingers? It could be carpal tunnel syndrome. This article will help you understand what carpal tunnel syndrome is, and what you can do about it!
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a highly prevalent peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome, which essentially means compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel. When the median nerve gets compressed, the pressure on the nerve causes pain and altered sensation signals to be sent to the brain. Motor signals to the hand (controlled by the median nerve) can also be reduced, resulting in hand weakness. If the compression lasts for a long period of time, this weakness can then cause wasting of the palm muscles.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Anything that compresses the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, any medical condition where swelling in the wrist will increase the pressure in the carpal tunnel can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This syndrome is generally more common in women, likely due to a relatively smaller carpal tunnel area than men. The main risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, as identified in the research, include increased BMI, repetitive stress through the wrist/hand, pregnancy, and post-menopausal and arthritis women.
Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
Reduce wrist stress: splinting & activity modifications
As stated above, repetitive stress through the wrist and hand can cause and make carpal tunnel syndrome worse. There is strong evidence behind supporting the wrist with a splint limiting the ability to move your wrist. This will keep it in a straight ‘neutral’ position to offload and reduce the pressure in the carpal tunnel. Unfortunately, some off the shelf wrist braces/splints aren’t actually set to the neutral position, so it is important to check with your physio to make sure the splint is set up correctly.
Activity modifications that encourage a neutral wrist position can also help to reduce this stress through the carpal tunnel. These modifications will be unique to each individual. For example, for a new mum, it could be changing the wrist position while feeding bub, or for a chef, it could be temporarily changing the chopping technique to use less of the wrist and more of the elbow/shoulder.
Nerve glide exercise
Physiotherapy neurodynamic techniques called ‘nerve glides’ have been shown to effectively reduce symptom severity and improve functional status for those with carpal tunnel syndrome. Nerve glides are a gentle exercise that aims to reduce irritation and improve mobility of the median nerve. See our Instagram page for instructions on how to do these.
Strengthening the forearm muscles that keep the wrist in a neutral position will help support the wrist during day-to-day activities to minimise the risk of increased pressure on the median nerve. Once again, the instructions for these exercises are on our Instagram page.
There is also evidence supporting corticosteroid injections, extracorporeal shockwave therapy and surgery in managing this syndrome, so it is a good idea to see your healthcare professional to determine if these treatment options are suitable for you.
If you think you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, book in with us by clicking here. Once the cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome and aggravating activities have been identified, we can design a plan specifically for you to get you back on track!