Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

By Helene Mitchell, Physical Therapist Assistant

If you’ve ever felt numbness or tingling in your hands or have trouble grasping objects you may suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common neuromuscular condition of the wrist and hand and is often associated with repetitive wrist movements. CTS affects 1 out of 20 Americans and is common in professions such as assembly-line workers, musicians, jobs requiring excessive computer keyboard use and the use of hand tools. Some recreational activities such as sewing, racquetball, tennis can also lead to CTS.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel on the palm side of your wrist that protects the median nerve and tendons that bend your fingers. Pressure on the nerve, caused by inflammation through repetitive use, can cause pain and weakness in your wrist and hand and tingling or numbness into your fingers which seems to be worse at night.

How Can Physical Therapy Help?:
Physical therapy can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist and arm without the need for surgery. Because symptoms of CTS are typical, it is often possible to diagnose it without extensive testing.

After the initial evaluation, the physical therapist will prescribe a treatment plan based on your specific findings. Treatment sessions often include modalities such as heat/cold, ultrasound or electric stimulation to relieve pain as well as the use of manual techniques to increase joint mobility and stretching to improve flexibility of the wrist, hand and fingers. Strengthening exercises for the muscles of the hand, fingers, forearm and sometimes trunk and postural muscles are taught and often given as part of a patient’s home exercise program. Education to avoid prolonged bent wrist positions and improve posture is also a part of the physical therapy treatment plan.
When choosing a licensed physical therapist, get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers. It’s also a good idea to ask what the physical therapist’s experience is in helping people with CTS.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Exercises to Do At Home With a Small Ball:

  1. To warm up fingers and wrists: Hold small ball at shoulder height then gently toss it upwards and catch with bent fingers. Repeat.
  2. To strengthen fingers, hands, wrists and shoulders: Hold small ball at shoulder height. Gently toss it upwards while spinning it at the same time then catch it with bent fingers. Repeat while keeping hand relaxed. Continue until hand becomes tense. Try spinning in the opposite direction. Try bouncing ball on ground while spinning it.

Photo Credit: Flickr/jan zuppinger

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