The Carpal Tunnel is a narrow passage in the wrist that is made of small bones and tissues which houses the flexor tendons of the hand and the median nerve responsible for some movement of the fingers. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) may cause numbness, pain and tingling in the forearm, hand, wrist and fingers. These symptoms arise when the carpal tunnel becomes restricted causing a compression of the median nerve.
There are some lifestyle practices and medical conditions which may predispose persons to this condition. These include:
- Repetitive hand and wrist movements, or poor positioning of hands and wrist while working; known as incorrect ergonomics.
- Health conditions that cause swelling in the soft tissue in the forearm/hands or reduce the blood flow to the hands such as: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Obesity, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis. This can also occur during pregnancy.
- Smoking may restrict blood flow to the median nerve.
- Broken wrist bones, dislocated bones, and new bone growth might add pressure on the median nerve
Difficulties Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
In addition to pain and numbness in the hand and forearm, persons with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may experience reduced grip strength in the hand which may cause cramping and pain whenever they engage in activities such as writing, driving, typing on a keyboard, preparing meals especially using knives, opening bottles or doors; washing and dressing.
Treatment – Hand Therapy
Fortunately hand therapy, which is a specialty practice area done by an occupational therapist or a trained physiotherapist, can help patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to recover successfully. A hand therapist can teach you how to avoid provoking and worsening the symptoms by introducing you to these treatment options:
- Relative resting– through discussion, the hand therapist will advise you on how best to incorporate rest in your daily routine to relieve some of the symptoms.
- Splinting provides support for the affected hand by positioning the median nerve in its most open position, relieving the pressure of the nerve and allowing for a restoration of blood circulation which reduces pain and discomfort.
- Hand Therapy Exercise will increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, wrist and shoulder.
On average, most patients with CTS see improvement in their condition within the first 6 weeks of hand therapy, however this is dependent on several factors which include: the severity of the compression in the carpal tunnel, the patient’s compliance with the treatment program and treatment of the existing medical conditions or lifestyle practices which caused the carpal tunnel syndrome in the first place as mentioned earlier.