Carpal tunnel symptoms can prevent you from working, taking care of your family, and doing the things you love. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common and painful condition affecting the wrists and hands that may require the attention of a hand doctor.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are the result of pressure on the median nerve that runs through a narrow opening, called the carpal tunnel, in the bones of your wrist. This pressure can cause pain and other debilitating symptoms in your hands and wrists. Left untreated, you may end up needing a carpal tunnel procedure or other hand surgery to regain full use of your hands. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
Carpal tunnel symptoms include pain, numbness and a “pins and needles” sensation in your fingers. Pain and numbness are often worse at night and can even disturb your sleep. You may feel a burning or tingling in your thumb, index finger and middle finger; the pain may move up to your elbow.
Weakness in your hand can prevent you from gripping objects tightly or manipulating items – you may drop things frequently. You may also have trouble making a fist or have feeling that your hands have swelled even though they appear fine.
How to Reduce Your Risk for Developing Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
- Minimize repetitive hand movements whenever possible by alternating between activities
- Keep your wrists straight when using them to perform a task; this forces the shoulders and arms to share the physical stress of the activity
- Use your whole hand, not your fingertips, to pick up an item. Use both hands whenever possible
- Do not hold any object the same way for a long time
- Keep your hands warm – wear gloves indoors if you have to
- Take frequent breaks – at least once an hour – to shake out your hands, massage your palms, and do a few body stretchesOffice workers are at special risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. To reduce this risk, workers should adjust the chair, desk and keyboard to put the body in optimal position, which is:
- Back straight
- Feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
- Knees level with or slightly below the hips
- Shoulders in a neutral position that is neither too far forward nor too far back
- Elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, with your forearms parallel to the floorYou can also reduce your risk for suffering symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by keeping your wrists straight at night. Many people sleep with their wrists hyper-flexed, increasing the risk for irritation of the median nerve as it bends around the carpal tunnel in a bent wrist.
Consult with a hand specialist if you worry about developing carpal tunnel symptoms or if you already have carpal tunnel syndrome. A hand surgeon can assess your condition, determine if your symptoms are the result of carpal tunnel syndrome, and suggest a course of treatment that may include a carpal tunnel procedure.