Your median nerve runs down the length of your arm and into your palm, allowing you to move and feel your forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when this all-important nerve becomes compressed within its narrow passageway inside your wrist — an area known as the carpal tunnel.
CTS can cause intermittent tingling, itchy numbness, and burning pain in your wrist, hand and fingers. You may even experience ongoing wrist or hand discomfort that weakens your grip and makes it hard to function normally at work.
Given that CTS symptoms are usually aggravated by repetitive, wrist-intensive activities, it can be challenging to manage the condition on the job if you work with your hands. Here, our team of board-certified orthopedists at Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard and Wilsonville, Oregon, offers five expert tips to keep your CTS under control when you’re working.
1. Wear a wrist-hand orthotic
One of the simplest and most effective ways to support your wrist and reduce the likelihood of a CTS pain flare when you need to work with your hands is by wearing a wrist-hand orthotic. Also known as a wrist splint or brace, this firmly structured, joint-immobilizing device helps stabilize your wrist and keep it in a neutral, well-aligned position.
In addition to wearing your wrist brace at work or when you engage in other hand-intensive activities, try wearing it when you sleep, too. Extended wrist splint wear through the night keeps your wrist in a pressure-relieving position for a longer stretch of time — making your next workday that much easier.
2. Create an ergonomic workspace
Wearing a wrist orthotic is helpful because it keeps your wrist in a neutral position and takes pressure off your median nerve. You can apply this same ergonomic positioning to your desk, if you spend much of your workday sitting (or standing) at a computer.
Position your chair height (or your standing desk height) so that your wrists are straight (not flexed or extended) and your hands are at elbow level when you’re typing. You may also need to alter the position of your keyboard and mouse to ensure your wrists are straight.
3. Alternate your tasks or take breaks
Even when your affected wrist is well-supported and in neutral alignment, your CTS symptoms can still flare after periods of intense wrist-hand activity. To prevent activity-induced wrist pain and inflammation, it helps to take frequent breaks from your hand-intensive work.
You might try resting your hand and wrist throughout the day, alternating or modifying your tasks, or stepping away from your work momentarily to stretch and massage your fingers, hands, and wrists. One helpful pressure-easing wrist exercise involves making a loose fist, then sliding your fingers until they’re open.
4. Address inflammation flare-ups
Ideally, you could simply take a day or two off work every time your carpal tunnel pain started to intensify. Since that’s not feasible for most people, it’s important to use the tools you do have to ease inflammation and make it through your day as comfortably as possible.
Taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve®) is a fast and easy way to fight CTS-related inflammation and pain when resting your wrist isn’t really an option. And if your wrist is ever warm and swollen after your workday, cold therapy (icing) can ease inflammation and alleviate the ache pain.
5. Seek CTS care from an expert
There’s no reason to suffer endlessly with carpal tunnel pain, especially if it makes it hard to do your job. If conservative CTS management strategies no longer keep your symptoms in check, it may be time for a more aggressive treatment approach.
Initially, this may mean having anti-inflammatory cortisone steroid injections and physical therapy; over the long term, it usually means undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery.
Is your CTS hard to manage? We can help. Call your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon office in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today, or schedule an appointment online any time.