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Carpal tunnel syndrome

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

 The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway on the palm side of the wrist. A median nerve runs through the Carpal Tunnel which gives feeling to the skin of the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger and gives movement to some of the muscles around the thumb. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome happens when there is pressure on this nerve.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

You may have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome if you have numbness or pins and needles around the thumb, index and middle fingers. It is common that it may cause wrist discomfort and can be especially obvious at night.  

Other symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty grabbing objects
  • Pain holding up arm.
  • Weakness of the hand and thumb

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve which is located in the carpal tunnel. This condition can by:

  • Narrowing of the tunnel
  • Swelling in the tunnel

This condition is also common for people to have that:

  • Are aging
  • Are pregnant
  • Have conditions such as wrist arthritis, fracture, thickened tendons, tendon inflammation and trauma causing swelling.

How do I know if I have carpal tunnel?

You may have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome if you have  any signs and symptoms listed previously although a health professional such as a GP, Physiotherapist or a Hand Therapist will be able to diagnose your condition through assessment and simple tests.

How can physiotherapy help with carpal tunnel?

Physiotherapy can help you with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the following ways:

  • Splinting – this will allow your wrist to be put in the correct position and relieve pressure from the median nerve.
  • Ergonomic advice – avoiding repetition of same activities that may be hurting your wrist
  • Tendon gliding exercises – Allow nerve to reduce swelling
  • Swelling management – Use of compression gloves etc.
  • Nerve glides – Gentle movements of your arm and neck in which helps heal nerve.
  • Strengthening – Your physiotherapist may give you a range of small exercises to complete at home to strengthen your hand.
  • Surgery – This may be required if there is a loss of sensation or inability to contract the muscles supplied by the median nerve. This is very uncommon.

How effective is physiotherapy for carpal tunnel?

It is important that your see a Physiotherapist if you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as treatment in the early stages (such as splinting) can take up to 6 weeks to heal whilst in more severe cases surgery may be required and permanent nerve and muscle damage can occur.

What can I do at home?

It is important that you ensure your following the instructions of your physiotherapist. The things you can do at home include the following:

  • Avoid any positions or movements that are uncomfortable or hurt your wrist
  • Follow the exercise advice and personal plan of your physiotherapist
  • Keeping your wrist elevated to reduce hand swelling
  • Wearing a splint

How long will my recovery be?

In mild cases, correct splint wear will usually have an immediate effect in reducing your symptoms, especially at night. If you do not get relief of your symptoms with physiotherapy, self-management and splinting as mentioned above, then your physiotherapist or GP will refer you on for a surgical opinion.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.