If you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), you’re probably very familiar with the intermittent tingling, itchy numbness, and burning pain it can cause in your wrist, hand, and fingers. You may even experience ongoing wrist or hand discomfort that weakens your grip and makes it hard to open a jar or grasp small objects.
When CTS progresses unchecked, its symptoms tend to worsen, impairing your wrist and hand function even more. It may feel as though CTS pain hinders your physical abilities and rules your life.
Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to alleviate CTS pain. Read on as our skilled orthopedic team at Sports Medicine Oregon offers five simple ways to ease CTS pain, improve your quality of life, and avoid or postpone carpal tunnel surgery.
As two of the main nerves in the brachial plexus network, your median nerves run the length of each arm: They start in your armpits, extend down the inside of your forearm, run through your wrist, and reach into the palm of your hand.
Your median nerves help you move and feel your forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers. When one of these nerves becomes compressed within its narrow passageway inside your wrist — an area known as the carpal tunnel — it can trigger ongoing numbness, tingling, and pain in your arm, wrist, hand, and fingers.
Carpal tunnel pain often begins as a mild annoyance, but it can become a disabling problem that makes everyday tasks a challenge. While CTS usually only affects a person’s dominant side, it can also occur simultaneously in both wrists.
CTS pain may be bothersome, but it’s also manageable. In addition to easing your hand and wrist discomfort, these strategies can also help reduce your risk of long-term nerve damage:
Because CTS pain is usually exacerbated by repetitive, hand or wrist-intensive activities like writing, typing, playing video games, knitting, yoga, or weightlifting, it’s important to identify any activities that may be contributing to your problem. Modify, reduce, or take a break from those activities until your symptoms subside.
Once you’ve rested your wrist and your symptoms have abated, you can resume your normal routine with care. Regular periods of dedicated rest are key to managing persistent CTS.
Wearing a wrist-hand orthotic, commonly called a wrist splint or brace, can help stabilize your affected wrist and keep it in a neutral, well-aligned position. Choose a brace that’s structured, firm, and immobilizing — not one that’s soft, flexible, or elastic.
In addition to wearing the splint when you engage in wrist-intensive activities, try wearing it when you sleep to keep your wrist in a pressure-relieving position for a longer stretch of time. Elevating your braced wrist as you sleep also helps ease CTS-related inflammation and pain.
Wearing a supportive orthotic is effective because it keeps your wrist in a neutral position and takes pressure off your median nerve. If you do a lot of sitting and typing at a desk, you can also apply this basic ergonomic technique to your workstation.
Keeping your wrist straight (not flexed or extended) as you work may require you to adjust your chair height and alter the position of your keyboard and mouse. Consciously resting your hand and wrist throughout the day can also be helpful.
Tendon inflammation is a major cause of median nerve compression and CTS pain. If your wrist is red, warm, and swollen — especially following a wrist-intensive activity — use cold therapy to quickly reduce inflammation and ease dull, persistent pain.
To ease tendon inflammation, relieve median nerve compression, and alleviate wrist, hand, and finger symptoms, simply slide your towel-wrapped hand and wrist into an ice bath for 10 or 15 minutes a few times each day. Regular cold therapy sessions can be very effective for keeping CTS-related swelling down.
Cold conditions can lead to joint and muscle stiffness that worsens CTS pain. If your hands are always cold, or if you work in a chilly environment, wearing fingerless gloves can help you keep your joints warm and ease carpal tunnel-related pain.
Another hand-warming treatment that may help is warm water therapy: Immerse the affected hand and wrist in very warm water for a few minutes, three or four times a day. Gently move or flex your wrist, hand, and fingers while they’re in the water.
When CTS management strategies aren’t effective against moderate to severe carpal tunnel pain, it may be time for a more aggressive treatment approach. Initially, this typically involves anti-inflammatory cortisone steroid injections; over the long term, it usually means surgery.
Whether you need help managing CTS or you’re already considering surgery, we can help. Call your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon location in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today, or use the easy online booking feature to request an appointment with our orthopedic team any time.