At Westchester Health, we see a lot of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve problem in the wrist which occurs when one of the major nerves (median nerve) to the hand is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. It radiates into the fingers and can radiate up the arm to the elbow (rarely the upper arm). Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in one or both of your hands, and it affects women more than men.
What we commonly hear from our patients who have carpal tunnel is that it’s quite painful, which is why, as rheumatologists, we thought we’d share several things you can do to aid healing and lessen the pain of this condition, if you have it.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Many people think that carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitively typing on a computer keyboard, but multiple studies examining the connection between excessive computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome have not found enough evidence to support a link.
We do know that the condition is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which can happen in many ways (or a combination of ways):
- repetitive tasks that overwork the hand and wrist, such as assembly line work, sewing, knitting, jackhammering, working a cash register, strumming a guitar
- injury to the muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones
- rheumatoid arthritis in the thumb joint or wrist
- joint dislocations or fractures
- keeping the wrist flexed for long periods of time
- fluid retention during pregnancy
- thyroid conditions
Who is most at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome?
Certain factors increase your risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly if you:
- are between the ages of 30 and 60
- are female
- have diabetes, hypothyroidism and/or arthritis
- eat a lot of salt
- have a sedentary lifestyle
- have a high body mass index (BMI)
Do you have any of these symptoms?
Symptoms vary from person to person but typical signs of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- pain, tingling or numbness in the hand, wrist or forearm
- numbness or pain in the fingers (usually in the thumb, index and middle fingers)
- decrease or loss of thumb function and hand dexterity
- numbness or pain at night, intense enough to wake you from sleep
- clumsiness with your hands
- a tendency to drop things
- inability to tell the difference between cold and hot
5 things you can do to lower your risk of getting carpal tunnel
At Westchester Health, what we’ve observed over the years is that making the following lifestyle changes can help patients avoid developing this painful condition, or at least, minimize its symptoms:
1. Type softly
Don’t use more force than needed when typing. Instead, try to hit keys softly.
2. Take frequent breaks to stretch your wrists
Stretch, rotate and bend your hands and wrists during repetitive activities.
3. Make changes to your work space
Take a good look at where and how you work (maybe get a professional evaluation) to see if there are ways you can improve the way you type, move your mouse, operate machinery—all of which can affect the nerves in your wrists, fingers and hands.
4. Manage chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and hypothyroidism.
5. Avoid sports or hobbies that put pressure on your carpal tunnel area, or at least make sure you’re doing them properly.
Examples of carpal tunnel syndrome-inducing activities are weightlifting with poor hand form, or long-distance cycling with improper handlebars.
Read our blogs on the subject
We’ve written several informative blogs about carpal tunnel syndrome which you can read here.
Informative websites we recommend
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Worried that you may have carpal tunnel syndrome? Please come see us.
If you’re concerned that you may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome, or already have it and want to know how to lessen the pain and numbness associated with it, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health rheumatologists. We’ll examine you, evaluate your symptoms, possibly perform some tests, and together with you, decide on the best course of action going forward to lessen your pain and improve your quality of life. Whenever, Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Sharon Wolfsohn Karp, MD, a Rheumatologist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners