What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a growing epidemic thanks to our dependence on technology. In fact, it’s been reported that 1 in every 20 Americans suffers from CTS. Your carpal tunnel is a passageway that runs through your wrist that is about the width of your thumb. It runs in the underside of your wrist, and protects the nerve and tendons that allow your fingers to bend.
Overusing your wrist or keeping it in an unnatural position for long periods of time causes irritation and inflammation on the tendons. As the tendons swell, they put pressure on your nerve. When there is pressure on the nerve, you will experience pain, weakness, and a numb or tingling sensation in your arm and fingers—this is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
While many people think of excessive computer use when they think of causes of CTS, those who are most likely to develop the condition are people who work in factories, especially assembly lines. Using heavy machinery, especially hand tools that vibrate, is one of the most common contributing factors to the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
People who play the violin, sew, play tennis, or participate in any similar leisure activities are also more at risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, because of the way the wrist is manipulated during them.
Other health conditions that may lead to CTS include:
- Wrist injuries, such as strains, sprains, dislocations, or fractures
- Hormone or changes in your metabolism, such as menopause, thyroid conditions, or pregnancy
- Use of certain medications, such as steroids
- Degenerative or rheumatoid arthritis
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms:
People who suffer from CTS usually start with numbness, tingling, or burning in their hand and fingers. Some people are even woken in the night by their symptoms. As their condition worsens, they will notice that the pain is more frequent, occurring during the day and when they hold something heavy or do things that require they move their wrist in a particular way (such as brushing your hair). Increased hand weakness and more frequent numbness will follow, and some people even reach the point where their grip becomes so weak that they unexpectedly drop things.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
The stage at which your condition is discovered will determine the care you’ll need. If you find out that you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome early on, most of your physical therapy will be conservative—teaching you how to tailor your regular activities to put less pressure on the nerves in your wrist and alleviate the pressure on your carpal tunnel.
Some of the things you’ll be coached through include:
- Changing the way you position your wrist to avoid bending it improperly for long periods of time
- Proper posture to keep your neck and upper back in line
- Safely using utensils and other hand tools
- Taking stretching breaks during your daily activities
- Exercises to increase the strength in your forearm, hand, and fingers
- Stretches to improve the flexibility of your hand, wrist, and fingers
If you need to have surgery to correct your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a physical therapist is going to be vital in your recovery to regain the strength in your wrist and arm. In addition to restoring your strength, it’s important to learn how to modify your habits to avoid developing these problems again in the future.
Post-operative physical therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may include:
- Exercises to improve your strength in your wrist and hand, and improve its function
- Stretches to improve the flexibility and mobility of your wrist and fingers
- Scar management to keep the skin supple and flexible
- Education on how to sit, stand, and position your wrist properly to avoid compressing your carpal tunnel
If you are experiencing symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, get in touch with the experienced physical therapists at Physical Solutions to set up your consultation today!