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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects the median nerve of the wrist. It can cause a tingling sensation, pins and needles, numbness or weakness and pain in the hand and fingers. Usually if you have carpal tunnel syndrome you’ll find the problems start gradually and get worse over time. It often gets worse during the night. The thumb, index and middle finger are usually the most affected and the sensations can radiate into a dull ache in the arm and wrist. It’s highly unpleasant and can be painful and debilitating.

 

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

 

Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the median nerve becomes compressed or pinched. The median nerve is responsible for providing sensation to the palm side of your hand and fingers, as well as powering movement in the thumb. The root cause of this condition is unknown, but certain people are more at risk of developing this condition than others;

 

  • People with a family history of carpal tunnel syndrome. It is not fully understood why carpal tunnel syndrome can run in families but there is a clear genetic link.
  • Pregnant women, 50% of pregnant women develop carpal tunnel syndrome! It usually resolves itself within 3 months after the baby is born but women who have had carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy are more likely to develop it again later in life. In some women the symptoms don’t go away within a year of birth.
  • Menopausal women. 
  • People who have had a sprain or fracture to the hand or wrist.
  • People who work in manual labour or use vibrating power tools such as chainsaws. (There is a lot of attention paid to the risk of people who type a lot getting carpal tunnel syndrome, but the risk is actually much lower than those who do manual work.)
  • People who play a musical instrument which involves a lot of hand movement. 
  • People with arthritis.
  • People with diabetes. Approximately 15% of people with diabetes will get carpal tunnel syndrome. The link between diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome is so strong, that diabetes research has indicated that carpal tunnel syndrome can actually be an early warning sign of diabetes. It was found that people with carpal tunnel are 36% more likely to develop diabetes. 

 

How Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Be Treated?

 

In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome will go away on it’s own. However because of the progressive nature of carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to get even mild symptoms checked out, especially if you have a dependency on being able to use your hands! If you need to use your hands to type, do manual labour, train, study, work, care for a baby or relative or engage in sports then carpal tunnel syndrome can really interfere with your life.

 

Surgery is sometimes necessary with carpal tunnel syndrome, but surgery is more likely to be successful in mild cases than severe ones. In severe cases, the recovery time may take longer and there might be little to no improvement. With the average recovery period of carpal tunnel syndrome surgery being a few weeks, it may be inconvenient to you because of time needed off of work.

 

Physiotherapy can help improve wrist function and reduce pain. We look at wrist mobilising and stretching techniques as well as focusing on reducing swelling. The aim is to reduce the compression on the median nerve and get it back to normal. The sooner carpal tunnel syndrome is treated, the better success rate physiotherapy has.

 

To minimise symptoms, it’s important to reduce inflammation. When you start to experience pain during an activity, stop and rest your hands. Treat the afflicted area with an ice pack, or rest your hand in cold water. Do this for 15 minutes at a time, once or twice an hour. You may also consider taking non steroidal anti inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen, it may help reduce your symptoms but will not address the cause of your pain. Wearing a wrist splint at night can help keep your hand in a position that will not aggravate your symptoms and will keep pressure of your median nerve.

 

How Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

 

  •  Maintain a ‘neutral’ wrist position, wherever possible. Repetitive flexing of the wrist can cause problems. Keeping your wrist straight can avoid problems.
  • Take breaks from repetitive movements. If you’re doing something which is creating a lot of flexion of the wrists, then take breaks every 15 minutes. Changing position, or switching tasks now and again can really help too.
  • Reduce force. Most people grab an object with more pressure than is needed. Try and relax your hands and take more of a gentle approach. There is no need to punch your keyboard with your fingers, work on giving a softer tap. 
  • Keep your hands warm. A cold environment is more likely to cause pain and stiffness in your hands. If you’re working outdoors wearing special work gloves or fingerless gloves will help keep your hands flexible and pain free. 

 

If you are experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, then physiotherapy can help. Call 0114 2686677 or email info@sheffieldphysiotherapy.co.uk for more information.