With the increased use of computers and cell phones while working remotely, you may have developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms such as numbness, weakness, or pain in the hand or wrist can be constant or flare up from time to time. Sometimes the pain comes on gradually the more time you do an activity, and sometimes it’s much worse at night. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause difficulty with fine motor activities such as crafts or sewing. It also can affect heavier work such as gripping machinery and tools. It can make even the simplest of tasks like opening a jar or twisting a doorknob more difficult or even undesirable.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Caused by pressure on the median nerve due to swelling, carpal tunnel syndrome can be more common in illnesses such hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. It can also be brought on by repetitive hand movements, pregnancy or other medical conditions such as obesity. The good news is, there are steps you can take to prevent carpal tunnel from slowing you down.
Carpal Tunnel Prevention
It may seem apparent, but the first step in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome is taking good care of your general health. “Maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise and refrain from tobacco use,” said Erin Campaigniac, MD, FACS, with Samaritan Medical Group Hand to Shoulder Orthopedics - Corvallis.
“General good health will help keep your arms, hands and fingers strong and flexible, helping to prevent swelling and injuries from overuse.”
For desktop work using the computer or phone, be sure to maintain proper posture and practice pinching your shoulder blades together. “We spend way too much time hunched over and that is a primary cause of worsening nerve symptoms,” said Dr. Campaigniac. You can also place a gel pad behind your mouse so your wrist can rest gently on it instead of directly on the desk.
Is your wrist kinked or flexed when you hold your cellphone? If it is, invest in a holding device so you can keep your wrist in a more neutral position with your phone. Also try dictating your messages instead of typing on those tiny keyboards with your fingers and thumb. It’ll make a difference!
If you begin to feel tingling and numbness, start by resting your fingers, hand and wrist and icing them for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Only resume activity gradually once symptoms stop. For mild symptoms, try a wrist splint that will restrict movement and allow the swelling to go down. A proper splint should keep your wrist in a neutral position, not bent back or forward, and reduce stress on your hand and wrist. It does not need to be tight. Get the most bang for your buck by wearing the splint at night.
“We all sleep in flexed positions that are awkward for our wrists,” said Dr. Campaigniac. “The splint maintains proper alignment for your nerve so it can get all the blood flow and oxygen it needs.”
Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Carpal tunnel syndrome should not affect your daily activity, and there are several treatment options beyond rest that can keep you moving smoothly. If returning to activity continues to cause weakness, tingling, numbness or pain, make an appointment to see a clinician that specializes in hand treatment to evaluate which options are best for your condition.
Typically, carpal tunnel treatment will include any combination of physical or occupational therapy. These can include stretching, wrist and posture exercises, anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections. In more severe cases, surgery is recommended if rest and less invasive treatment options have not helped. Surgery generally involves reducing the pressure on the median nerve. Following the surgery, the ligament will grow back together and allow more space than before, eliminating the numbness, tingling and weakness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
While you can take steps to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, research shows you may still be susceptible to developing the condition, either due to a medical condition or posture positioning from remote computer work or home projects.
“If you find your wrist issues are inhibiting your regular activity, see a hand specialist,” said Dr. Campaigniac. “Together, we can work to get you back to living your normal daily life!”
See Dr. Campaigniac’s five recommendations for treating thumb arthritis pain.
Dr. Campaigniac treats patients of all ages with chronic conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome as well as hand trauma injuries. To make an appointment, call 541-768-6300.