There it is again. That irritating tingling and numbness in your fingers that seems to worsen each evening. Maybe you've recently noticed this pattern, or perhaps you're one of over three million Americans diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Though you may hear that surgery is your only option, you might find pain relief through other alternatives.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome anyway? Essentially, the median nerve runs from the forearm to the hand through the "carpal tunnel" in the wrist. When this tunnel is inflamed or swollen, the nerve is compressed
resulting in a classic symptom of numbness/tingling in the thumb and first two or three fingers (the little
finger is not affected). This inflammation may be due to repetitive use movements, injury, over-usage, genetics, or even an effect of other diseases (ie. Rheumatoid Arthritis). You may also notice a weakening in the affected hand, or feeling like you're going to drop held objects. Wrist and hand discomfort may worse during nighttime and can even effect your sleep.
Many look to surgery to eliminate their pain. Though cutting the transverse carpal ligament will relieve pressure on the median nerve, it isn’t necessarily eliminating the problem. The body now has a larger area to allow for swelling/inflammation before the median nerve is again compressed if the original routine isn’t altered.
Often, though, these repetitive movements and over-usage are a result of job requirements- stopping simply isn't an option. So, how else can you find relief? These four techniques may help alleviate your pain.
1. Utilize proper technique. If your job requires repetitive motions, especially using tools, ensure that you are using the tool properly. Adjusting body mechanics may reduce stress placed on the wrist and forearm creating inflammation in the carpal tunnel.
2. Become ergonomically aware. Are you spending long hours in front of a computer? Adjust your screen and keyboard so that undue stress isn't placed on your neck, shoulders, and wrists. Try a speaker phone or headset to eliminate discomfort cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder. Postural awareness can also help reduce muscular and skeletal compromises.
3. Get moving. Take short breaks several times a day to rotate wrists and shoulders. Incorporate gentle wrist stretches that flex and extend the joint. Applying compression and movement to the forearm muscles can help reduce tension and may ease tingling in fingers. Likewise, gentling shaking the hands and wrists can improve circulation to the fingers and thumb.
4. Add massage therapy to your routine. Loosening the pectoral, neck, shoulder, and back muscles improves circulation and decreases inflammation. Massage therapy can also help alleviate tension not only in muscles that are over-used, but also compensating muscles as well. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is often a symptom resulting from muscular imbalances elsewhere in the body (generally neck and shoulders). Increasing movement and range of motion in these areas allows for better flow of oxygen, nutrients, and cellular waste removal to and from inflamed areas.
Looking at Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a symptom, instead of a source, may help you find relief faster. Addressing muscular tension and imbalances will reduce inflammation and better allow you to focus on the job at hand.