Insight Pain Management – Do you experience tingling and numbness in your fingers, hand weakness, and persistent pain that radiates from your hand to your arm? If so, you may have a common nerve condition called carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the median nerve in the wrist endures excessive pressure.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect one or both hands and is usually linked to repetitive use of the hands and fingers in work activities, sports, and hobbies such as knitting. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you are not alone. As many as 10 million Americans are affected by this condition and it is one of the leading causes of lost time at work in the United States.
Fortunately, once carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, there are many lifestyle measures and treatments that are effective at managing pain and preventing the need for surgery. From exercises and splinting to over the counter pain medications, here are six tips to consider that will help you control pain and reduce carpal tunnel strain on your wrists and arms.
Ice and Heat
When used together, ice and heat therapy is one of the most effective ways to control pain and stiffness caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Applying cold to the wrist numbs pain and constricts blood vessels that cause swelling and pressure on the median nerve. Place a cold pack from the freezer or a bag of ice between a towel to prevent damaging your skin and hold it at the base of your hand for up to 20 minutes at a time. Soaking the hand in an ice bath for about 10 minutes is also a simple method to relieve pain that many patients find worthwhile.
Heat is another effective treatment option. Not only does it increase blood flow and relax tense muscles, but pain management specialists believe heat therapy may help restore damaged tissues over time and provide long term results for carpal tunnel pain. For fast results, simply place a heating pad or towel over the hand and wrist area at a comfortable temperature.
If you struggle with carpal tunnel symptoms throughout the day or while you work, consider wearing a wrist splint. Keeping the wrist in a straight position is one of the best ways to alleviate pressure on the median nerve that is causing discomfort.
A good splint or brace will limit the wrist’s movement and prevent additional strain. It is important to choose a splint that fits properly and does not cut off circulation. The brace should have components made of plastic or metal that will keep the wrist in place. Also look for a brace with adequate padding that is comfortable and allows you to move your fingers and thumb with ease.
Another great way to achieve relief and strengthen your wrists is to perform simple stretches and exercises throughout the day. Whether you’re sitting at your desk, waiting in line, or watching television, dedicating just a few minutes can make a big difference – especially when you are performing repetitive tasks. In addition to exercises, lifting small weights can help you strengthen your hands and arms while also stimulating normal blood circulation in the extremities.
For more information on safe and effective stretches to manage carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests a series of therapeutic exercises. Because each patient’s symptoms are different, it is important to work with your physician and physical therapist to develop a treatment plan with exercises that are safe and will keep your condition from worsening.
If you are experiencing pain from carpal tunnel syndrome that is impacting your daily activities and quality of life, over the counter medications may be helpful. Choose a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Although these medications will not cure carpal tunnel syndrome, they provide safe and effective symptom relief for most patients.
Topical pain medications that contain menthol may also provide temporary carpal tunnel pain relief. Popular products such as Aspercreme and Biofreeze can be applied to the affected area throughout the day to reduce discomfort. Similar to ice treatments, topical menthol products provide a soothing, cooling sensation that is fast-acting and convenient.
If conservative carpal tunnel treatments are not producing meaningful results, steroid injections may be an effective option. Steroid injections are performed by a physician and placed in the carpal tunnel to reduce swelling and pressure on the median nerve.
Like most injections, steroid treatments may come with some side effects and should be monitored. If you choose carpal tunnel injections to manage pain, they may need to be repeated to increase effectiveness. However, injections are successful for most people. A study in the American Association for Hand Surgery’s journal HAND found more than 60% of patients gained effective long-term treatment from primary local corticosteroid injections, avoiding the potential complications of surgery.
Although it may seem simple, rest is something many patients overlook when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome. Not only is rest an important factor in preventing symptoms, but it also plays a key role in managing complications and pain.
Symptoms are often triggered by repetitive tasks. When you find yourself repeating certain movements, such as typing or using a tool, take a break in a series of intervals to avoid straining your hand and wrist. If you forget to take breaks while completing a task, set a timer to stretch your hands, move your wrists, and get blood flowing in your arms. In between periods of rest, try to keep your wrists in a neutral position whenever possible and avoid flexing, which puts additional strain on the median nerve. Numbness, tingling, and wrist pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can be aggravating. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to surgery that are simple and effective. If you are suffering from these symptoms and think you might have carpal tunnel syndrome, pain management specialists at Insight can evaluate and treat your symptoms. Contact us today at 810-275-9333 in Flint or 312-567-2000 in Chicago for more information and to schedule an appointment.