How Physical Therapists Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

March 20th, 2020
carpal tunnel syndrome

Do your hands, wrists, or forearms ache on a daily basis, even when completing simple tasks? Are your daily activities, such as typing or writing, harsh on those areas? Do you tend to feel painful stings with arm, hand, or wrist movement? If so, you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition for students to experience when participating in excessive typing or writing for their classes. It is a condition that can cause numbness, stiffness, or pain that can radiate through your fingers, hands, wrists, or forearms. This happens when too much pressure is put on your median nerve, located at the base of your palm. 

Your carpal tunnel is a narrow channel, about the width of your thumb, located on your wrist under the palm. It protects the median nerve, as well as the tendons you use to bend your fingers. When excessive pressure is put on the median nerve, it causes crowding and irritation of the carpal tunnel, making it difficult for it to do its job. This, eventually, is what leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Contact Loudoun Physical Therapy today!

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Essentially, any excessive use of the fingers, wrists, hands, or forearms can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This is why students so frequently experience it, because classroom activities involve constant use of the hands and wrists. It is a very common condition, affecting approximately 1 out of every 20 Americans. 

Some health conditions can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, such as:

  • Previous injury to the wrist, including strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures.
  • Fluid retention, typically during pregnancy.
  • Use of medication, typically steroids.
  • Hormone or metabolic changes, including thyroid imbalances, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Diabetes.

How can I tell if I need surgery?

In some severe cases, surgery may be a necessary step in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, in most cases, hand therapy alone is enough to treat the condition completely.

In fact, in a study published by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, the effects of the two methods of treatment were thoroughly tested. Based on the known side effects and risks associated with surgery, in addition to the knowledge that over 1/3 of patients are unable to return to school or work within 8 weeks after receiving their operation, researchers decided to test whether more conservative treatments could be used in replacement of surgical procedures. 

The results were overwhelmingly positive. 100 women with carpal tunnel syndrome were studied; 50 had received surgery, and 50 had received hand therapy. The hand therapy patients were treated with manual therapy techniques, focusing on the median nerve, in addition to stretching exercises given by their therapists. 

After one month, these patients had much better function during their daily activities than the surgery patients, and demonstrated stronger grip strength overall. At 3, 6, and 12 months, patients in both groups showed similar improvements with function and grip strength.

What can I do on my own?

Fortunately, there are some precautions you can take to make sure you don’t develop carpal tunnel syndrome when you return to school. If you notice pain in your fingers, hands, wrists, or forearms, you can purchase a brace to ease tension while you type and write. Additional exercises you can do to prevent these areas from becoming stiff and/or provide pain relief include:

  • Spiders doing pushups: Begin with your hands clasped together in prayer position. Then spread your fingers apart as far as they can go. Next, create a triangle shape by separating your palms, but keeping your fingers together still. 
  • Shake it off: Shake out your hands, as if you have just washed them and you’re trying to air dry them.
  • Deep wrist stretch: Begin with your arm stretched straight in front of you, elbow locked, and fingers pointing downward. Spread your fingers slightly and use your other hand to press down and apply gentle pressure to your wrist and fingers, slowly pushing them as far as they’ll go. When you’ve reached maximum flexibility, hold this position for 20 seconds. When you’re finished, repeat with your other hand. 

If you are experiencing pain from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, request an appointment today with one of our expert physical therapists in Leesburg and Lansdowne, VA.

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