Carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS) is a fairly common and painful disorder that affects the wrist and hand.
The carpal tunnel is actually a narrow tunnel that is made by the bones, ligaments and tendons in the wrist and it is intended to protect your median nerve. The median nerve is the nerve that gives movement to the thumb and to the first 3 fingers on each hand. When the tissues in the carpal tunnel get swollen or inflamed they press against the median nerve, resulting in parts of the hand or wrist make painful and/or numb – this is what is known as CTS. This condition can be caused by repetitive use of hand movements – for example workers in IT, mechanics, carpentry or any other work or hobby that includes repetitive hand and wrist movement. The condition is more likely to affect women than men and is also heredity. Other causes of STS can be a wrist injury, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or pregnancy. Drugs, wrist splinting and – in severe cases – surgery – can alleviate the problems with CTS but an occupational therapist can, in many cases, be of great benefit to sufferers of this painful syndrome.
Your therapist can use four methods to endeavor to reduce the symptoms of the syndrome by tackling the pressure on the median nerve.
Sufferers of CTS will often notice a weakness in their hands and can start to lose their grip and often to drop objects. To help to regain the strength in the hand and increase the permanence of the wrist the occupational therapist may often recommend strengthening exercises for the hand and wrist. These simple rotation exercises done on a regular basis can really help with stabilizing the wrist without the need for drugs, injections or surgery.
People who suffer through CTS because of repetitive hand and wrist activities in their work or hobby can get a lot of benefit by having their occupational therapist retrain them in the way that they carry out the daily actions that can cause the syndrome – actions like writing, typing or even playing the piano or other musical instrument – can be changed so that the way these actions are carried out will place less strain on the wrist. Simple techniques like keeping the elbows and wrists straight thus reducing the pressure placed on the medial nerve can be of great benefit. The benefit of this retraining can really help in preventing the CTS from getting any worse and can help to maintain a more normal flexibility in the hand and wrist.
The third technique used by therapists is to introduce the patient to stretching exercises. These exercises can be very beneficial in increasing flexibility and also reducing the muscle pain and inflammation associated with the syndrome. Basic stretching exercises are simple and easy to do but must be followed as directed by your therapist to avoid over stretching. It is especially important to steer clear of any activities that exacerbate your symptoms, especially anything connected with the activity that can have caused the CTS initially.
A therapist may often suggest a wrist splint to alleviate the condition and they will custom fit this for you. It can be necessary, on your therapists’ advice, to wear the splint for a period ranging from weeks to months depending on the severity of the CTS. It is more beneficial for these splints to be worn when involved in sports activities or during the night.
So although CTS is a painful condition, it may not be necessary to go down the surgical route to reduce pain and increase mobility, your occupational therapist can really help in these matters. However if you do have constant signs and symptoms that would suggest that you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, you should see your doctor because leaving the condition untreated can result in nerve and muscle damage.