Carpal tunnel syndrome causes workers, on average, to miss more days on the job than other major disabling injuries and illnesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that carpal tunnel syndrome caused an average of 32 missed days, followed by fractures at 30 days and amputations, also at 30. That’s why it is so important to seek treatment right away if you’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, so things don’t get worse and you miss even more work.
Before treatment can begin, The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) advises you to make sure that any underlying conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis, are treated first. Once any underlying issues are taken care of, you will likely be told to rest the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, possibly place your wrist in a splint, and avoid any activities that may injure it further.
According to the Mayo Clinic there are some non-surgical things you can do to give temporary relief from carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Take quick breaks from repetitive activities that use your hands.
- Rotate your wrists and stretch your palms and fingers regularly.
- Wear a wrist splint at night; make sure it fits snugly but isn’t tight.
- Try not to sleep on your hands which should help with the pain and numbness in your wrists and hands.
- If needed, take a pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
- The NINDS says orally administered diuretics, also known as water pills, can decrease swelling.
- Your doctor may suggest that Corticosteroids or lidocaine be injected directly into the wrist or taken by mouth to relieve pressure on the median nerve and provide immediate, temporary relief.
- Some studies have also shown that vitamin B6 supplements may ease your symptoms.
- After the pain and effects of carpal tunnel syndrome have subsided, stretching and strengthening exercises may help the affected area. These may be supervised by a physical therapist who can help your condition and improve your well-being.
Important: No matter what treatment you decide to try, always check with your doctor first!
If your condition is extreme enough, you may need to undergo carpal tunnel release. This is one of the most common surgeries done in the U.S. and is usually recommended if you’ve experienced symptoms for 6 months. During carpal tunnel release surgery, the band of tissue around the wrist is severed, which reduces the pressure on the median nerve. This can either be done by making an incision up to 2 inches in the wrist, or via endoscopic surgery. In this procedure, the surgeon makes two, ½ inch incisions in the wrist and palm, inserts a camera attached to a tube, observes the tissue on a screen, and cuts the carpal ligament. Both surgeries are typically done with local anesthesia and are considered outpatient procedures.
Although carpal tunnel surgery may relieve your symptoms, it can take months to fully recover. You may experience stiffness, pain at the incision site(s), nerve damage, or infection. It is also a possibility that you will lose strength in your wrist and will need to undergo physical therapy to build up its strength. You may need to change job duties during recovery, but recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome following treatment is rare.
You may also be interested in incorporating alternative forms of therapy into your treatment plan. As always, though, check with your doctor before trying any of these as suggested by the Mayo Clinic:
- Yoga. Yoga can help strengthen and stretch the upper body and its joints, which means it may help reduce the pain and improve the grip strength of people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Hand therapy. There is some evidence that shows certain physical and occupational hand therapy may help improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Ultrasound therapy. High-intensity ultrasound can be used to raise the temperature of a targeted area of body tissue to reduce pain and promote healing. Several weeks of this treatment may help improve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
How can carpal tunnel syndrome be prevented?
There are things you can do while working to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Wear splints to keep your wrists straight.
- To ensure your wrists are in the proper position you may want to use an ergonomic keyboard tray; this allows you to type on a keyboard with your arms rested comfortably at your sides and with your hands at or just below your elbows. Other ergonomic products for your work space are also available.
- Improve your posture; when your posture is not correct this causes your shoulders to roll forward, which shortens your neck and shoulder muscles and compresses the nerves in your neck. This can affect your wrists, fingers and hands. An adjustable stand up desk is one way to help your posture, plus it will promote body movement by allowing you to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day.
- Ensure that overall your work space is ergonomically correct.
- Perform stretching exercises.
- Take frequent rest breaks.
- Wear fingerless gloves to help keep your hands warm and flexible.
- If you can, rotate jobs among workers.
Again, the most important thing to remember is to seek treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome as soon as possible. By working with your health care provider you will be able to come up with what treatment is necessary and will work best for you, to get you back into top working condition.
Have you undergone treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome? What did you find was the most effective? Do you have any advice for someone who has recently been diagnosed? Let us know in the comments section!