Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
by Jacy Salber, Clinical Assistant-Exercise Physiologist
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition of the wrist and hand that can affect the use of the whole arm. It is caused by pressure on the nerve at the base of the palm. Because of the demands that people place on their hands and wrists, CTS is a common condition affecting 1 out of 20 Americans. Surgery for this condition is common.. Fortunately for most people who develop CTS, physical therapy treatment can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, and arm without the need for surgery.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel, about the width of your thumb, on the palm side of your wrist. The tunnel protects the median nerve and the tendons that bend your fingers. Pressure on the nerve can cause pain and weakness in your wrist and hand and
numbness or tingling in some of your fingers. Extreme wrist positions, as well as a lot of finger use, especially with a lot of force or vibration (like holding the steering wheel when driving heavy machinery), can all contribute to CTS. Some leisure activities and health conditions can also cause CTS.
How can we help? Physical therapy and patient education can help you with CTS in numerous ways. o changing wrist positions o proper neck and upper back posture o safe use of sharp utensils, tools, or other implements, if sensory changes are identified o “stretch breaks” during your work or daily routine o Exercises to increase the strength of the muscles in your hand, fingers, and forearm—and in some cases, the trunk and
postural back muscle and stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of the wrist, hand, and fingers o Use of a night splint to reduce discomfort o A worksite visit to assess your work area. For example, if you sit at a desk and work on a computer, it’s important for the keyboard to be in proper alignment to help avoid working in a bent wrist position. o Increasing the size of tool and utensil handles by adding extra material for a more comfortable grip o Anti-vibration gloves or antivibration wraps around tool handles, if vibration is a factor at your workplace
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