The carpal tunnel is on the palm side of your wrist, and it’s a narrow passageway made up of bones and ligaments. When the median nerve, which runs through this passageway to the thumb and first three fingers, is continually under pressure, you can end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. The inflammation is often caused by an underlying medical condition that causes swelling in the wrist and sometimes obstructed blood flow, such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, high blood pressure or an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause can be another cause. When tendons that attach muscles to bone get used repetitively, they alert us via pain signals to try to protect the area from further damage. “In a small area like the wrist, tendons run through a narrow tunnel over the carpal, or wrist bones,” explains Amy Baxter, MD and CEO of MMJ Labs Pain Relief. “When the cells are overtaxed they release lactic acid that can stick the fibers together for protection, and the inflammation causes swelling.” Carpal tunnel may lead the nerve damage, these are signs that you are suffering from peripheral neuropathy.
SymptomsImage Point Fr/Shutterstock
Common carpal tunnel symptoms are pain, numbness, and tingling. “Patients feel characteristic numbness and tingling of the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring digit on the palm side of the hand, most commonly at night (waking them up), while driving, using a cellphone or other activities with the hands,” says David Clark Hay, MD, of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “Patients will find themselves shaking their hand out to get the burning and tingling to go away.” The symptoms often develop slowly, beginning with a “pins and needles” type sensation first thing in the morning or when falling asleep at night. Try these home remedies that are hiding in your junk drawer to treat other ailments.
Conventional therapiesSTUDIO GRAND OUEST/Shutterstock
The most common carpal tunnel treatments involve immobilizing the affected area so the repetitive movements stop, or surgically opening up the area to relieve pressure. However, a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy suggests physical therapy may work just as well as surgery. The study followed 100 women from Madrid with the condition, half of whom were treated with physical therapy and half underwent surgery. Researchers found that physical therapy (in particular an approach called manual therapy) improved hand and wrist function and reduced pain as effectively as a standard operation for the condition. Moreover, after one month, the patients who had physical therapy reported better results than those who had surgery.