If you work long hours on a computer or do repetitive motions with your hands, you are at risk of getting carpal tunnel. This painful condition in your wrist can become so severe that you can no longer grasp items with your hand. You could be away from work for weeks while recovering. Protect your hands and wrists and at the first sign of pain, see your doctor to evaluate the extent of damage.
Your Sensitive Wrists
The median nerve extends down your arm, into your wrist and hand. It travels through a small channel made of bones and tendons in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. This nerve is normally protected by the bones and muscles in your wrist. If the muscles are irritated and become swollen, they exert pressure on the nerve, causing the numbness and tingling characteristic of carpal tunnel syndrome. As the nerve irritation increases, the median nerve becomes unable to control the motions of your hand. You could find it difficult to make a fist or hold any objects.
Some people are more at risk than others. Their carpal tunnel may be smaller than normal or they may have less tissue in the wrist to cushion the median nerve. Even a small amount of swelling can cause these people to experience painful wrists.
Protecting Your Wrists
A small case of carpal tunnel pain can take weeks to recover from, so the best option is prevention. The two common ways this condition develops are:
- working with the wrists against a surface that puts pressure against the carpal tunnel region
- doing repetitive motions that overwork the muscles in the wrist
Both activities cause swelling in the wrist and pressure against the nerve. To reduce the irritation, try these techniques at work:
- Take frequent breaks from what you are doing to allow your wrists to rest.
- Exercise your wrists frequently by making circles in one direction then the other.
- Move items on your desk that can put pressure on your wrists.
- Keep your hands warm to improve the circulation and reduce swelling.
- Buy a couple of different wrist supports and use them throughout the day.
Actions that increase circulation in the wrist area help to keep swelling down. When work puts direct pressure against the median nerve, wrist supports prevent this.
When the Pain Happens Anyway
Should you develop carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms in spite of your preventative actions, see a doctor quickly before they become debilitating. They will recommend a number of non-invasive treatments first such as:
- anti-inflammatory medications
- physical therapy on the hands and wrists with cool packs to reduce swelling
- an injection of steroids in the wrist to reduce swelling
- the use of rigid wrist splints to immobilize your wrists
Should these treatments fail to give you relief, surgery may be necessary. A neurosurgeon such as Tampa Bay Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can enlarge the carpal tunnel, allowing the median nerve to move without irritation again. After the surgery, physical therapy is ordered to strengthen the muscles in your wrist. The surgeon will do the procedure using a local anesthetic in their office or clinic. Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to control any discomfort after the surgery.
It's worth your time protecting your wrists at work. Some people develop extensive carpal tunnel pain in both wrists at the same time and find themselves without the use of their hands for several weeks as they recover.