Carpal tunnel syndrome is surprisingly common, affecting 1 in 20 Americans. The carpal tunnel is an area in the wrist that contains a variety of tendons and nerves that affect the hand and fingers. Excessive, ongoing pressure on this area of the wrist from computer use or hobbies can lead to numbness, tingling, pain, and restricted range of motion. Physical therapy can alleviate carpal tunnel in its early stages, and can help you recover from the surgery that may be needed for advanced carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive strain injury. Bending the wrist into unnatural positions or bearing weight in the wrist for long periods of time can put you at risk. Those who use computers all day, spend long hours driving, or work on assembly lines are at particular risk for developing carpal tunnel.
In addition, the presence of certain health conditions can increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. These include:
- Wrist issues such as a sprain, strain, or fracture
- Pregnancy and other hormonal conditions that affect the joints
- Steroid use
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Carpal tunnel syndrome generally announces its presence with odd tingling, burning, or numbness through the palm of the hand and into the thumb, first, and middle fingers. Symptoms are usually the worst at night, and many patients report being awakened by them. You may find some relief from shaking out your hands.
As carpal tunnel progresses, you will start to notice symptoms during the day. Your hand may become weak, making it difficult to hold heavy items. If the condition continues to go untreated, you may lose grip strength to the point that you frequently drop even relatively lightweight items.
Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your first session will consist of a detailed evaluation to confirm that your symptoms are caused by carpal tunnel. We will also discuss your habits at work and home that could be contributing to your condition.
We will perform a variety of hands-on manual therapy techniques to help loosen the tightness in your wrists, hands, and fingers. We will also prescribe both in-office and at-home stretching and strengthening exercises to relieve pain and improve your range of motion.
Because carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive strain injury, you will not fully heal if you continue to do the things that caused your condition in the first place. Therefore, patient education is a huge part of physical therapy for carpal tunnel. We will teach you ways to modify your workstation and your habits to reduce strain on your wrists. We may also recommend the use of adaptive equipment such as a wrist brace for a period of time.
Physical Therapy After Surgery
If you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome, we may refer you to a surgeon for evaluation. Surgery can release the band of tissue at the base of the carpal tunnel, relieving the pressure on the median nerve. After surgery, physical therapy is essential to reduce scar tissue and restore strength and flexibility in your wrist and hand. Post-surgical physical therapy is similar to physical therapy when no surgery is needed, with some differences to account for your post-surgery needs.
How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
You can lower your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome by following a few basic tips:
Relax your grip: Many people apply more grip strength than necessary when holding and using items. Consciously relax your grip as much as possible to reduce muscle strain. When writing by hand, choose a pen with a wide handle to reduce the amount you need to grip.
Take breaks: When performing repetitive activities, take frequent breaks. Stretch out your wrists and hands and relax. If this is not possible, try switching hands periodically.
Keep your wrists neutral: Whenever possible, avoid excessive wrist bending. Try to keep your wrists in a straight, neutral, relaxed position.
Adjust your workstation: Evaluate your workstation for ergonomics, and be sure it is correctly adjusted for your height and physical build. Even minor changes in angles can have a huge effect on reducing strain in your wrists and throughout your body.
Keep your hands warm: Cold hands tend to hurt and stiffen up. Wear gloves in cold weather and avoid lowering the temperature in your home or office too far.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready for the latest physical therapy treatments for your pain or injury, contact Manhattan Physical Therapy and Pain Center today at (212) 213-3480 to learn how we can help.