Carpal tunnel syndrome can make your hands feel ‘numb’ — here’s how to treat it

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and arm. Here are ways to relieve it. – Jun 7, 2018

For anyone who has experienced carpal tunnel syndrome, you know your hands and arms can be left feeling lifeless.

The wrist area itself is made up of carpal bones and a fibre span of connective tissues, says physiotherapist Ahmad Dhooma of Triangle Physiotherapy in Toronto. This connects the roof of the tunnel (the fibre span) to the bottom of the tunnel (carpal bones), which is why it’s called carpal tunnel.

“It’s a fixed amount of space and anything that is essentially inflamed or increased in size can start pushing on other structures in that tunnel,” he says.

Your body’s median nerve runs through this tiny space, he adds, and if there is pressure on this nerve, people start to feel weakness or pain.

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“Most of the time it is numbness and tingling, but sometimes people can feel coldness,” he continues. “It’s common for people who have desk jobs or work in offices.”

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Symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

According to HealthLink B.C., sometimes the tingling or sense of weakness can range from the wrist to fingers to hands. “Some people may have pain in their arm between their hand and their elbow,” the site notes.

Symptoms usually start in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger, the site notes, adding if you tend to have problems with all of your fingers and not the pinky finger, it’s a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome (a different nerve gives feeling to the little finger).

It can be caused by conditions like hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis or doing the same hand movements, over and over again. Dhooma adds it is also common with pregnant women, when there is pressure on the median nerve.

He adds people tend to feel symptoms at night and if you do, it’s important to start tracking how often they occur — sometimes, it may not be carpal tunnel syndrome.

“There are a lot of injuries that happen in the wrist or hand, and it’s not carpal tunnel syndrome,” Dhooma continues. “People hear that name and that term and [associate it] with painful wrists.”
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He says if you feel any type of numbness or weakness more than once or twice a week or if the pain feels consistent, speak to your doctor.

Treatment options

There are several ways to approach treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome, but the first step is alerting a healthcare professional or a physiotherapist.

Dhooma says arm and hand braces are a common relief method, as well as forms of physiotherapy that can help reduce inflammation in the wrist and hand area, including exercises and stretches.

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Acupuncture can also help relieve numbness and there is also a surgical procedure. “This is the last resort. It’s not what I would recommend to a lot of people.” In surgery, a slit is made into the fibre connective tissue, allowing more space in the tunnel.

“The decision whether to have surgery is based on the severity of your symptoms — how much pain and numbness you are having in your hand. In long-standing cases with constant numbness and wasting of your thumb muscles, surgery may be recommended to prevent irreversible damage,” the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes.

Prevention tips

And for anyone who sits in front of a screen and types all day, Dhooma says it is all about prevention. Take constant breaks to stretch your wrist flexors. He recommends pulling your hands back towards your face to stretch the area and avoid rotating your wrists — this doesn’t do much.

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“To keep carpal tunnel syndrome from coming back, take care of your basic health. Stay at a healthy weight. Don’t smoke. Exercise to stay strong and flexible. If you have a long-term health problem, such as arthritis or diabetes, follow your doctor’s advice for keeping your condition under control,” Health B.C. adds.

“Generally you want to do the exercises from time to time, and create an ergonomic space at work,” he says, adding you should encourage employers to provide gel pad keyboards and proper chairs.

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