Tingling, numbness, and shocks in your fingers or hand after using your hands for a long time can be carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Here's how to prevent carpal tunnel symptoms and carpel tunnel surgery.
What is carpal tunnel?
We’re not talking about you jiggling your foot in your car while stuck in traffic to get into a tunnel. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in your wrist, palm up. Pressure on the median nerve, which runs from your forearm through that passage, causes symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel symptoms
You might at first feel numbness or tingling that comes and goes — generally in your thumb, or index, middle, or ring fingers. You might get little shocks.
Often, at the time you’ll be holding a steering wheel or phone or using a keyboard. The sensation might travel from your wrist up your arm. You may find that your hand is weak, and you’re dropping objects.
Get treated early — you could have permanent damage otherwise.
What causes carpal tunnel?
Women are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, in part because they have smaller wrists than men do, and some women have especially narrow carpal tunnels. A broken wrist or arthritis can cause pressure on the nerve. Diabetes increases your risk of nerve damage. Obesity is an important risk factor. Any condition that causes inflammation in the lining around the tendons in your wrist can lead to pressure on the nerve. Fluid retention — often during pregnancy or menopause — can trigger carpal tunnel symptoms. Thyroid disorders and kidney failure are also risk factors.
Working with vibrating tools, on an assembly line, or using the computer may aggravate pressure on the nerve.
How to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome
Although there are no sure bets to prevent this problem, there are clear safeguards. Take frequent breaks — alternating tasks. Check out your work station — is your keyboard at elbow height? Is your computer mouse comfortable and within easy reach? Is your screen at the correct height so you’re looking straight ahead, rather than craning your neck? Tight nerves in your neck can affect your hands. Make sure your hands aren’t cold.
Once you’ve begun to experience carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, you’ll need to be especially careful to rest your hands. You may apply cold packs to reduce swelling. Massage helped, according to a study in which participants received a half hour of massage twice a week for six weeks. Identifying trigger points for pain as part of massage may be helpful, according to a Cochrane overview, which found that other options — including special keyboards, heat at a physical therapist’s office, low-level laser therapy, and ultrasound — did NOT have clear benefits. If you hit a cash register or keyboard, hit the keys softly. Learn the pianist technique for keyboarding, and use your entire hand to move your fingers to the top keys rather than stretching them.
Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment
If you've had only mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel symptoms for fewer than 10 months, you can try wearing a wrist splint at night while you sleep — especially if your symptoms are linked to pregnancy. You can take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for a while. Bend your wrists often, and try finger stretches called “tendon or nerve gliding” routines.
You doctor may choose to inject your carpal tunnel with cortisone, which decreases the inflammation.
Treating any triggering illness may help.
Carpel tunnel surgery
If all else fails, you may opt for carpel tunnel surgery that cuts a ligament pressing on the nerve. In a study of nearly 87,000 surgeries from 2007 to 2011, about 19 percent were performed under local anesthesia. In about 16 percent, the surgeon used an endoscopic technique, with a tiny camera looking inside your carpal tunnel. Your skin will heal within weeks; inside your carpal tunnel, recovery will take longer.
March 27, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA