If you work at a computer (or have a job that involves repetitive motion) and are experiencing wrist pain, you’ve likely wondered if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. The symptoms are both uncomfortable and frustrating, especially when you need your hands for practically everything you do.
While it’s estimated that only a small percentage of the US working population suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, this condition and others that impact hand mobility or cause chronic wrist pain can dramatically impact your quality of life.
First, what exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage at the base of the hand composed of ligament and bone. It houses the median nerve, which runs from your forearm through your wrist to the palm of the hand and provides feeling to parts of your thumb and all fingers except the pinky.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is under pressure or being squeezed by surrounding structures. Wrist fractures, swelling, and inflammation can also narrow the carpal tunnel and irritate the median nerve. In all of these circumstances, compression of the nerve can lead to numbness of the fingers, difficulty grasping items, and even pain from the hand up to the forearm.
Some people are more prone to the condition than others, including people with naturally narrower carpal tunnels, anyone who does repetitive motions (such as typing or working with vibrating tools), and those with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or obesity.
What are the main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms often start off slowly and intensify as time goes on and the median nerve experiences prolonged pressure. The most common symptoms are:
- Numbness or tingling in your thumb, index, and middle fingers that comes and goes
- Discomfort in your wrist and the palm of your hand that can radiate up the arm
- Tingling when holding a steering wheel or phone or gripping anything tightly
- Painful tingling at night that can disrupt your sleep
- Weakness or a tendency to drop things
How can I tell if I have carpal tunnel syndrome?
While nothing can replace an examination by an experienced physician, there are a few ways to perform a carpal tunnel syndrome self-test, if you’re trying to decide whether or not you need to make a trip to the doctor.
Phalen’s Maneuver for diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome
To perform this test, touch the back of your hands together with wrists in force flexion with your elbows extended and your fingers pointing toward the ground parallel to each other. Hold this position for one minute. If you feel a tingling sensation or pins and needles, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Tinel’s Sign wrist test
Lightly tap at the base of the hand, just above the wrist. If this produces a tingling sensation, it can indicate that your median nerve is irritated. If symptoms persist, visit your physician to determine if carpal tunnel syndrome is to blame.
Don’t forgo a trip to the doctor
It’s also possible that the pain you are feeling is coming from something other than carpal tunnel. For instance, conditions like arthritis or tendonitis or even referred pain from another injury can present similar symptoms. An official diagnosis from your physician can help ensure you are properly treating the root cause of your discomfort.
How is carpal tunnel treated?
The best course of treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and what you and your physician deem is the most appropriate for your lifestyle. A conservative approach may include corticosteroid injections and splinting. Alternative options, such as acupuncture and massage, may also provide some relief.
If you work at a desk, take time to rearrange your chair and computer station to ensure they are ergonomically correct to best support your body throughout the day. Other things you can do to alleviate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Taking short breaks from repetitive activities involving the use of your hands
- If you are overweight, losing weight and exercising regularly may help
- Rotate your wrists and stretch your palms and fingers
- Take a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen
- Wear a snug wrist immobilization splint at night
- Avoid sleeping on your hands
In more severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome where discomfort is interfering with your day-to-day life or consistently interrupting sleep, surgery may be needed. Typically, surgery is recommended only when more conservative approaches have failed.
Who can help?
If you are tired of being in pain and suspect carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to contact an experienced physician right away. Our Asheville carpal tunnel surgeons can help you explore your options, discuss both surgical and non-invasive treatments, and come up with a plan that helps you enjoy your life pain-free. Contact us today to make an appointment