Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a neuromuscular disease of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm through the carpal tunnel passageway in the wrist to your hand. The nerve allows for sensation on the palm side of your thumb and all fingers except the pinky. It also provides nerve signals that move the muscles at the base of your thumb.
Anything that puts pressure on or irritates the nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel can cause numbness and tingling in the hands and wrists — carpal tunnel syndrome. This disorder usually starts out gradually and may affect just one or both of your hands. Caught early enough, it can be successfully treated or managed.
At Memphis Neurology, with locations in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi, founder and board-certified neurologist Dr. Shiva Natarajan and his team provide help for all manner of neuromuscular diseases, including carpal tunnel syndrome. They individualize each treatment plan based on the severity of symptoms and other individual and medical factors.
There are things you can do to help yourself with CTS, and the team would like to share those tips with you. Here’s what you need to know.
Causes and risk factors for CTS
A number of factors may not directly cause carpal tunnel syndrome, but they can increase the risk of irritation or damage to the median nerve. These include:
- Anatomic factors: Wrist fracture, dislocation, and arthritis deform small wrist bones and shrink space in the carpal tunnel; people with small tunnels more at risk
- Gender: More common in women, whose tunnels are smaller
- Nerve-damaging conditions: Chronic illnesses such as diabetes increase the risk of nerve damage
- Inflammatory conditions: Affect lining around wrist tendons and put pressure on the median nerve
- Obesity: More mass can put more pressure on nerves
- Body fluid changes: Fluid retention, common in pregnancy and menopause, increase pressure within the carpal tunnel, irritating the median nerve
- Workplace factors: Prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist, as with vibrating tools and on assembly line work, puts pressure on the median nerve
Several research studies examined whether there’s an association between computer use and CTS. While some evidence suggests it’s the mouse and not the keyboard that’s the problem, there hasn’t been enough quality, consistent evidence to support a causal association.
Tips to manage carpal tunnel syndrome
For mild-to-moderate cases of CTS, there are a number of things you can do at home to help. Tips include:
Take breaks from tasks
No matter what you do, but especially if it’s something repetitive, take a break every 15 minutes or so. Wiggle your fingers, stretch your hands, and move your wrists for a minute or two. These will help improve blood flow to your wrists and fingers
Wear wrist splints
Splints keep your wrists straight, which helps relieve any pressure on the median nerve. CTS symptoms more commonly appear at night, after a day of work, so you may want to start wearing the splint in the evening to lessen the impact. And if you’re doing repetitive tasks at work, by all means, wear the splint during the day.
Loosen your fingers
Sometimes, we grip a pen too tightly when writing, or we tap the keys too forcefully when typing. These actions can irritate the median nerve. Try to relax your grip or reduce the force you’re using. A soft-grip pen or a wrist-supported keyboard are great tools to help.
When your hands get cold, they’re prone to stiffness and pain. Fingerless gloves or hand warmers can keep them warm and the blood flowing through your joints.
Remember to stretch
In addition to taking breaks at work, you can do wrist exercises at any time, no matter where you are. Try making a fist and then sliding your fingers out until they’re straight again. Repeat 5-10 times. Like wiggling, this can help relieve pressure on your wrists.
Elevate hands and wrists
The elevation is particularly important when your CTS is caused by fractures, pregnancy, or other situations where you retain fluids. You don’t have to do this all the time, just whenever possible. Relieving fluid pressure will decrease the median nerve impingement.
Try OTC medications
OTC pain relievers, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can both relieve pain and reduce any inflammation around the nerve.
In addition, topical menthol products may help. Researchers studying slaughterhouse workers with CTS discovered that applying topical menthol significantly reduced pain during the workday.
Do you have numbness and tingling in your hands and wrists and suspect you may have carpal tunnel syndrome? Contact Memphis Neurology to schedule a consultation with our expert neurologists. Give us a call at either of our locations or make your appointment online. We also offer telemedicine visits.