Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a relatively common condition involving the median nerve in the arm. The median nerve is one of three main nerves which supply sensation and strength to muscles throughout the arm and hand. The median nerve travels into the hand via carpal tunnel, a relatively narrow tunnel which is covered by a strong ligament. If the median nerve is compressed, irritated or inflamed it can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome does not give you symptoms in your little finger or the adjacent half of your ring finger, if you have symptoms in these two fingers it is not carpal tunnel syndrome.
Who Is At Risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Risk factors for carpal tunnel are not fully known, however there are a few which are more common;
- Diabetes – the nerves are more susceptible to damage or compression in metabolic conditions
- Pregnancy – due to fluid build-up which can compress the nerve
- New High Blood Pressure – not commonly seen but it is due to a fluid build-up
- Injuries to the wrist – which may cause local swelling or direct compression of the nerve
- Repetitive or sustained wrist exercise – repeated stretching or compression of the nerve may irritate it and cause carpal tunnel syndrome
- Family history
- Women are more at risk than men
- Age – the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome increases with age
Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Pins and needles or numbness in the hand (specifically the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring finger)
- Weakness in the thumb or even wastage of the thumb muscle
- Dull ache or pain in the wrist or hand
- Often worse at night or awakening in the morning with symptoms
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
When treating carpal tunnel syndrome and the wrist/hand pain it causes, time makes a significant difference. Early and accurate diagnosis can greatly help prognosis and speed of recovery. Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the incorrect diagnosis given for any symptoms in the hand. It is important to exclude other causes, such as the neck, which may be referring symptoms to the hand. At K.M. Woods Physiotherapy, we are experts in assessing musculoskeletal conditions to give you an accurate diagnosis and corresponding treatment programme and advice.
Treatments may include
- Home exercise programme
- Electrotherapy (ultrasound)
- Taping or splinting
- Advice and education to help long term management and prevention
What Can I Do To Help This Condition Myself?
Prior to, or while attending physiotherapy, the patient can also help the recovery process by following several steps to address both cause and symptoms.
- Wearing simple wrist splints at night can help keen the wrist in a neutral position, which can decrease compression of the nerve and it may even help reduce sleep disturbance.
- Addressing any repetitive movement or positions, often at work, could help decrease the load placed on the nerve throughout the day.
- If you have none of the common risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, making an appointment with your GP practice to have your blood pressure checked could be beneficial.