Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
It’s only in the last few years that we’ve begun hearing a lot about carpal tunnel syndrome, a potentially serious condition in which the hands and wrists get tingly, numb, or sore. It’s not a new condition, exactly, but the things that cause it – long hours spent doing repetitive tasks, like typing on a keyboard or working a cash register – have become increasingly common in our ever more high tech, hands on world.
Carpal tunnel syndrome gets its name from a channel in the wrist called (what else?) the carpal tunnel. When you use your hands and wrists a lot, tissues lining the carpal tunnel may get inflamed and swollen. If they start to press on a nerve in the wrist, you may have pain, numbness, or other symptoms.
Experts estimate that millions of people around the world have carpal tunnel syndrome and the incidence is on the rise. People who make the same motions over and over again, like computer programmers, butchers, cashiers, and professional musicians, are those who have the highest risk of getting this painful condition. It can be serious because, once you get it, without proper treatment it may last a long time and prevent you from doing the things your job or daily life requires.
Fortunately, there are ways both to prevent and treat the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. Here’s what experts advise.
Take a mini-break. Since carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive motions, it makes sense that giving your wrists a break from work will help prevent problems. Studies have shown, in fact, that simply taking “minibreaks” from your usual job – by taking a few minutes to make phone calls, for example, or simply stretching your hands and wrists and wiggling your fingers – can relieve pain and protect the wrists from long-term harm.
Give your hands a shake. Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome have found that giving their hands and arms a quick shake will provide quick and effective temporary pain relief. Even dangling your arms for a few minutes can relieve painful pressure on the nerve.
Seek diversity . Just as taking a vacation can make you feel refreshed and relaxed, giving your hands a break from their usual tasks can have a similar effect. If you work on a computer all day, for example, you may not want to play the piano every night. Instead, look for activities that don’t put additional stress on your hands and wrists – like taking walks in the evening or going dancing a few nights a week.
Consider a splint . The hands and wrists simply weren’t designed for the constant pounding many of us give them every day. To provide additional support and protection, doctors often advise people with carpal tunnel pain to wear special splints that help stabilize the wrists and provide relief from pain. The splints, which are available in pharmacies, come on and off as easily as putting on a glove, and you can use them as often – or as rarely – as you feel is necessary. Some people don the splints only for tough jobs – when they’re typing a long report, for example – and then take them off.
Get a grip . Whether your hobby is cooking, carpentry, or working in the garden, having tools with the proper handles can dramatically reduce the strain on your wrists. Simply placing foam rubber over the handles of brooms or hammers can make them much easier to grip. You can even buy can openers and kitchen knives that have thicker handles, which will make tasks like opening cans, slicing, and chopping a lot comfortable.
Try hot and cold. Many people with carpal tunnel pain get quick relief by putting ice in a wash cloth and holding it on their wrists for fifteen or twenty minutes. Conversely, putting a heating pad on your wrist can quickly relax the muscles and help ease the pain.
Check your weight . Researchers aren’t sure why, but people who are overweight appear to have a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome – possibly because fatty tissue can put additional strain on nerves and tendons in the wrists. Losing even small amount of weight can help “open up” the carpal tunnel, reducing pain and helping prevent future problems.
Take some over the counter relief . When wrist pain is flaring, one of the best things you can do is take a few aspirin or ibuprofen. Often, these medications will quickly relieve pain as well as swelling.