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What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a fairly common neuromuscular condition that causes numbness, pain and tingling that originates in the wrist but can extend to the fingers and/or the arm. 

The carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of the hand. The tunnel is surrounded by bones and ligaments. There is also a fibrous sheath over the carpal tunnel called the transverse carpal ligament. The median nerve sits inside the carpal tunnel. When pressure is placed on the carpal tunnel for extended periods, this causes irritation of the median nerve.  

The pressure on the carpal tunnel can be caused by a variety of internal and external factors:

  1. Repetitive Hand Motions - Motions such as typing or hair styling for prolonged periods cause the space in the carpal tunnel to narrow. 
  2. Other Health Conditions - Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis 
  3. Pregnancy - Swelling in the wrist can be caused by hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. 
  4. Poor Posture - Maintaining position for prolonged periods that cause tension throughout the arm/wrist can contribute to narrowing of the carpal tunnel. 

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel usually start gradually and increase in frequency and intensity over time. Symptoms that you may experience include: 

  1. Numbness/Tingling in the wrist, hand fingers or arm
  2. Shooting pains from the wrist that extend to the hand or arm.
  3. Dropping items that you were previously able to hold without difficulty.
  4. Difficulty with fine motor tasks such as zipping your jacket or buttoning a shirt
  5. Increased pain at night

What can I do? 

The best thing to do is seek out treatment early. There are a variety of treatment that can be effective when implemented early

  1. Activity Modification - Work or recreational activities can cause us to keep our wrists in positions that are placing stress on the median nerve. Consulting with a Physical Therapist on how to make changes to your workstation or wrist position during other activities can help. 
  2. Bracing - A brace can help to maintain a wrist position that decreases stress in the carpal tunnel
  3. Anti-Inflammatory Medication - speak with your doctor prior to use of any medication. Because there is an inflammatory element to carpal tunnel syndrome, the use of an anti-inflammatory can help to reduce the pain. 
  4. Exercise - Performing exercises such as nerve gliding, stretching and postural exercises can help to reduce the tension on the median nerve. An evaluation with a Physical Therapist can help to determine which exercises are best.
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