Throughout your life, it’s likely that you’ll experience a range of small injuries that simply get in the way of your daily routine. But even a small bruise or cut can alter the way we go about everyday tasks, so what if something bigger happens? We depend on our hands and wrists to help us perform countless tasks throughout the day.
One of the most frustrating and painful injuries to the wrist is known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Carpal tunnel is one of the most common disorders of the upper extremity. It affects approximately 5 percent of the general adult population. It also ranks near the top in the number of work-related injuries.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel
A nerve in the arm, referred to as the median nerve, runs through an area of the wrist known as the wrist tunnel or carpal tunnel, a narrow passage located in the central portion of the wrist. The median nerve controls some of the thumb muscles and provides feeling to the thumb and most of the fingers. The median nerve can become irritated or compressed, especially when there is swelling. This can result in a feeling of weakness, tingling or numbness in the hand. This feeling is often accompanied by pain and discomfort, which can last for an extended period of time.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
As with many illnesses and disorders, the symptoms of carpal tunnel vary from person to person. Here are some of the more common symptoms that people experience:
- Numbness, pain or tingling in the fingers or thumb
- Numbness, pain or tingling in the arm, which can move up to the elbow
- Weakness in the hand
- Difficulty holding small objects
- Reduced feeling in hand or fingers
Risks of Developing Carpal Tunnel
Women are 3 times more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel than men due to generally slighter build and therefore smaller carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel usually occurs in the dominant hand simply because that is the one that is used the most. The average age of sufferers is between 40-50 years and higher in persons with diabetes or other metabolic disorders also are more likely to suffer.
Carpal tunnel is usually associated with jobs, hobbies or other activities that involve a repetitive motion of the hand or wrist. While it is not confined to a particular occupation, carpal tunnel is very common in assembly-line work and data-entry professions. Here are some of the jobs that are known to be associated with carpal tunnel:
- Construction worker
- Data-entry clerk
- Computer operator
Carpal Tunnel Prevention
While it may not be possible to totally eliminate carpal tunnel, there are certain things that can be done to reduce the risk of developing it. Simply sitting up straight with the correct posture helps a person’s hands and arms to be more relaxed. When working at a computer, it is important that the keyboard is adjusted so that the wrists are in a relaxed position. In the workplace, stretching and taking frequent breaks may help. Here are some other things that have been known to work:
- Wearing splints to keep the wrists straight
- Keeping hands warm
- Redesigning tools and tool handles to fit a worker’s hands better
- Rotating jobs among workers
Home Treatments for Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel can sometimes be effectively treated by medication or surgery. However, most people would prefer to find a treatment that they can use at home. Here are five of the home treatments that have been shown to be effective for carpal tunnel:
1. Wrist and Hand Braces
One of the best things a person can do at home or in the office to relieve carpal tunnel is to wear a
wrist and hand brace. Such braces usually feature a metal splint that is positioned in a specific way to provide support and protect the hand and wrist from further damage. In addition to carpal tunnel, these types of braces also work well for sprains and overused or weak wrists, plus they promote increased circulation, which can help with the recovery process. Some wrist and hand braces have a built-in heat retention for increased circulation.
2. Hand Exercises
Exercises have been shown to be an effective home treatment for carpal tunnel. One of the simple ones that seems to work is to lift the hands and rotate them in a circular motion. This improves circulation to the wrist, arms and shoulders. It also may help to move the neck forward and backward.
Both hot and cold treatments have been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel. When a person’s wrist is aching, an ice pack often helps to reduce the pain and provide some relief. On the other side of the spectrum, using a thermal hand brace with heat retention properties aids in warmth and bloodflow.
4. Tool handling and cutting devices
When handling tools, it is important to use tools with a stocky handle. This reduces pressure on the
nerves in the hand. If a large diameter tool handle is not available, it can be wrapped with a cloth, cotton gauze or rubberized tubing to make it easier to grip. When using cutting devices, it is important that they remain sharp so that less pressure needs to be applied. The same thing can be said for using a pen or pencil. It is important to grip the writing device using as little pressure as possible.
5. Vitamin B6
Eating a diet that is rich in vitamin B6 helps to relieve pain and also works to help keep future damage minimized. Foods that are rich in vitamin B6 include green leafy vegetables, whole grains and seafood.