Some Handy Information on Carpal Tunnel

November 16, 2018
 

There is no shortage of ailments to the hands and wrists that can cause discomfort and disabilities.

The good news is there are many treatment options for hand and wrist ailments, as well.

One common problem seen by NorthBay Healthcare experts is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms in the hand and arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a compressed nerve in the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway on the palm side of the wrist.

There is a common misconception that those who work at a keyboard are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, said NorthBay orthopedic hand specialist Daniel Birkbeck, M.D.

"I would say the opposite, that anyone can develop carpal tunnel," he explained. "Some people are more prone to it, and some of it can be your anatomy and other predisposing factors. But I think it's fair game for anyone to develop. And it's not always developed on your dominant side, either."

Determining whether someone has carpal tunnel involves exploring their history and physical examination as well as a nerve conduction study. "This is a special test where we run small amounts of electricity through the nerve to determine how fast the signal travels across the carpal tunnel in the wrist where compression typically occurs," said Dr. Birkbeck.

A diagnosis of carpal tunnel doesn't automatically mean surgery is needed, he added. Modification of activities and various stretches and nerve glide exercises will often be the first step in treatment. "And wearing a splint at night is often helpful because it puts the wrist in a more comfortable position where the nerve doesn't get pressure on it," he said.

Working with a hand therapist is also important. Lori Russell, a certified hand therapist Lori Russell explained that her work involves educating patients and helping them regain hand function.

"We're always trying to get the pressure off the nerve," she explained. Tendon glide exercises, for example, can help stretch the hand and wrist. "They are all designed to be smooth and easy. We don't want to put a lot of stress on it because we are trying to relieve the stress and take the pressure off," she said.

It's also important for patients to learn the exercises so that they can follow through and do them at home or work, and not just when they come in to see the therapist, she added.

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