Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Image by mamewmy on Freepik
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects millions of people in the US. It causes weakness, pain, tingling, and numbness in hands and can be highly limiting during everyday life.
Such activities as typing, gripping, using the phone, and others can become difficult and lead to decreased quality of life.
One of the best and most effective ways to treat the condition is physical therapy for carpal tunnel. It can help manage or eliminate the symptoms, prevent the need for surgery, and improve the person's lifestyle.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
A common misconception among patients is that carpal tunnel is in the wrist. However, it is an opening at the base of the wrist and is an "entrance" to the palm.
Carpal tunnel is formed of eight carpal bones and carpal ligament with tendons and median nerve passing through. When that nerve gets inflamed or pinched, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs.
Most people start noticing symptoms that cause challenges in daily life. It also becomes difficult to use hands and fingers in repetitive motions, e.g., typing.
Carpal tunnel symptoms and their intensity vary depending on the person and can get worse after a longer period of time working or in the morning when the body is stiff.
It's important to immediately visit a physician and schedule physical therapy for carpal tunnel.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
A variety of factors and their combinations are associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Depending on their health, anatomy, and lifestyle, they can have a larger or smaller effect on different people.
Image by Lifestylememory on Freepik
The risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome:
Gender. Women suffer from carpal tunnel more often than men. One of the reasons may be that their carpal tunnel is smaller.
Anatomy and injury. Arthritis, smaller carpal tunnel, and wrist injuries can cause changes in the carpal tunnel and pressure median nerve. Being overweight is also a risk factor.
Inflammatory illnesses. Such conditions as arthritis often affect the wrist tendon lining, put pressure on the median nerve, and may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Various health conditions. Diabetes, e.g., is considered a possible risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome as it increases the risk of nerve damage. Other conditions include thyroid issues, kidney failure, and more.
Pregnancy and menopause. Due to fluid retention during pregnancy and menopause, the pressure within the carpal tunnel can increase and irritate the median nerve.
Work conditions. Any work involving repetitive and prolonged wrist movement, flexing, or holding can put pressure on the median nerve and cause the syndrome. Some studies also associate computer use with carpal tunnel, but more research is needed.
Whichever the cause, it's essential to start with physical therapy for the carpal tunnel as soon as possible to manage the symptoms and treat the condition.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
While carpal tunnel symptoms can vary depending on a person and may appear gradually, the sooner you see a doctor or physical therapist to get a diagnosis, the sooner carpal tunnel physical therapy can begin.
Photo by Anete Lusina
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
Pain in the wrist, thumb, and/or first two fingers (middle and ring) that often intensifies over time. Pain can be felt at night and disturb sleep.
Numbness and tingling in the same areas that may go up the arm. Numbness may occur and intensify while doing such tasks as holding a phone, typing on a computer, driving a car, etc. A sensation similar to electric shock may be felt in the fingers too.
Weakness in the hand and thumb. People with carpal tunnel syndrome often start dropping things or are unable to grip objects.
Atrophy in the thumb muscle.
Reduced mobility and range of motion.
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel
If you're feeling some of the symptoms above, the best way to determine whether you're suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome is to get a diagnosis from a professional.
They will use some or all of these methods to diagnose you and prescribe treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptom history. To get a broader view of the condition, a physical therapist or a doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, when they started, and how they progressed.
Examination. The therapist will thoroughly examine your hand and fingers and test their strength and sensations, including tapping or pressing on the nerve to see whether symptoms get triggered.
X-ray and ultrasound. X-ray is not used to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome directly but to eliminate other possible causes, such as arthritis or injury. Ultrasound is used to get a better picture of nerves and bones and see if there's nerve compression.
Electromyography. One of the tools to diagnose carpal tunnel is to use electrodes to identify muscle damage by sending a small shock through the median nerve and seeing how muscles react.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Carpal Tunnel?
Physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome is an effective way to help reduce or eliminate pain and regain mobility and strength.
The therapist will focus on working on nerves and tendons and reducing the irritation of the median nerve. Physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome after surgery is essential to speed up healing.
There's a study showing that carpal tunnel syndrome physical therapy can deliver better outcomes than surgery in the short term. Women who received physical therapy instead of surgery reported less pain and better function.
Photo by Matthias Zomer
During your physical therapy sessions, the therapist will use various exercises and hand traction devices to strengthen and stretch the muscles and other structures. That will include hands, wrists, fingers, arms, and shoulders.
You may also be recommended to wear a brace to keep your wrist straight. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to wear a brace during the night day too.
The physical therapist may also use ultrasound and its high-frequency vibrations to reduce symptoms.
Lastly, they will recommend lifestyle changes to reduce your symptoms and discomfort at home and work.
The therapist will find the best modalities that work for you and teach you some exercises you can do at home.
All in all, physical therapy treatment for carpal tunnel and physical therapy for carpal tunnel pain is effective and necessary to get better.
Can This Injury or Condition Be Prevented?
Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata
While carpal tunnel can happen to anyone, and there's no one guaranteed way of preventing it, you can take some steps to minimize the risk.
Maintain correct posture. If you walk and sit with your shoulders rolled forward, it compresses the nerves in the neck and shortens shoulder and neck muscles which, in time, can affect your hands, wrists, and fingers.
Take breaks when working. Whether you work at a computer or manual job, make sure to take breaks and stretch your hands from time to time. If possible, switch up your tasks so that you don't make the same repetitive motion for too long.
Get a better computer mouse and set up your desk right. You may have noticed that some are more comfortable than others, so get a new one if yours doesn't strain your wrist. Your keyboard and mouse should be at elbow height or lower.
Be more gentle. Take care of your hands, and don't grip objects too hard, whether you're stacking the shelves, writing with a pen, or using a computer mouse.
Keep your hands warm. Cold temperatures make hands stiff and may lead to pay and discomfort. Keep your hands and wrists warm whenever possible.
Stretch your hands, wrists, and fingers. Physical therapy carpal tunnel exercises are a great way to keep your hands flexible and limber.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Exercises
You can do various carpal tunnel exercises physical therapy at home to speed up your recovery and manage your symptoms.
Remember that you should never feel any sharp pain; if you do, immediately stop and see a professional.
Before the exercises, you can heat your wrist for 15 minutes (you can use a heating pad or a warm towel) and then ice it for 20 minutes to prevent swelling.
Medial Nerve Glide
This exercise helps restore mobility to the nerve and reduce carpal tunnel symptoms.
Make a fist and then relax the hand.
Straighten the fingers while holding your thumb close to them.
Start bending your hand towards your arm and then extend the thumb away.
Turn your forearm and hold the palm up.
With the other hand, pull the thumb back enough to feel a deeper stretch. Do this multiple times a day.
This exercise helps stretch and relax the hands, shoulders, and forearms.
Put your hands in a prayer position. Hold them under the chin.
Slowly push the hands towards the waist. You should feel a nice stretch.
Hold the position for 30-40 seconds and repeat a few more times.
Wrist Flexor Stretch
The exercise helps increase the range of motion and improve wrist flexion.
Straighten your hand in front of you, holding your palm up.
Slowly bend the hand towards the floor with the other hand, so you feel a stretch in the wrist and palm.
Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
Do the same with the other hand. Repeat a few more times on each side.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that puts pressure on a nerve in the wrist.
This inflammation or pinching of the median nerve causes pain, tingling, and numbness in hands and makes performing daily tasks such as using a keyboard, phone, or gripping items difficult.
It's important to diagnose the condition and start treatment as soon as possible.
One of the best ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome is physical therapy for carpal tunnel, which helps reduce and eliminate pain, increase flexibility, and bring back full function.
Book an appointment with Miracle Rehab Clinic today and make sure you get the treatment you deserve.