Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common issue of the wrist that can make daily activities such as typing on a keyboard, lifting a cup, or writing a note difficult. Repeated use of the hand, or any condition that causes swelling and/or inflammation may lead to carpal tunnel symptoms.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow space created by the wrist (carpal) bones and a ligament known as the flexor retinaculum or transverse carpal ligament. Within this tunnel are the tendons of the forearm muscles and the median nerve. The forearm flexor muscles bend your wrist towards you, and are important muscles for grabbing or holding items. The median nerve controls muscles of the thumb and some of the fingers, as well as sensation to the thumb and fingers.
This condition is more common in women, assembly-line workers, individuals with diabetes, and those who have experienced injury to the wrist.
Signs & Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Numbness, burning, and pain distributed through the thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring finger.
- Weakness through the hand, especially when gripping objects. It is common to drop objects without realizing with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Generally, this condition is more common in women, assembly-line workers, individuals with diabetes, and those who have experienced injury to the wrist.
Jobs that specifically require repetitive motions of the wrist and/or stress on the palm can predispose an individual to carpal tunnel syndrome. Desk-style jobs may put you at risk, but a proper ergonomic assessment can significantly reduce one’s risk factors.
Sports that impose a lot of stress on an individual’s hand through gripping or throwing also increase risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. This can include racquet sports, baseball/softball, golf, rowing, rock climbing, etc.
Physical Therapy can help you decrease swelling and pain through stretching and strengthening exercises so you can return to using your hands for daily activities. Our physical therapists use a variety of non-surgical treatment options including physical therapy targeted exercises, activity changes, nerve glides, and bracing/splinting.
Treatment duration varies significantly from person to person, depending on the severity and risk factors surrounding the case. The most important aspect of initial care is modifying the potential cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, whether this be a work, ergonomic or sports-style modification.
How is carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?
A full physical exam will your healthcare professional will aid in diagnosing this condition. Tinel’s sign, phalen’s test, and the carpal compression test are all designed to diagnosis carpal tunnel syndrome.
Will I need surgery?
Surgical treatment is rarely the first line of defense, but if pain persists beyond conservative management, surgery can be an efficient option. Surgery is most often done as a carpal tunnel release as the surgeon will increase the size of the tunnel and reduce tension on the nerve by cutting a portion of the ligament that makes up the outer part of the carpal tunnel.