In the NEWS

Dr. Pamela Jones

Merrimack Valley Hospital

Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Take Good Care of Your Wrists and Hands

If you find you have persistent pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in your fingers or hand, you could have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused from pressure on the median nerve in the wrist, which along with several tendons, runs from the forearm to the hand through a small space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel.

The median nerve controls movement and feeling in the thumb and all fingers except the little finger. “Anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller can cause pressure on the nerve,” said Pamela Jones, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Merrimack Valley Hospital who is also board certified specifically in hand surgery.

Dr. Jones advises that some things that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome include swelling, wrist injury, bone spurs, arthritis, obesity, thyroid problems, pregnancy, and overuse - making the same hand and wrist movements over and over, especially if the wrist is bent in a manner where the hand is lower than the wrist.

Symptoms are tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the hand or fingers - most often in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger. Some people also experience pain in the arm between the hand and elbow, and it is not uncommon to first notice symptoms at night and find relief from shaking your hand.

To differentiate carpal tunnel syndrome from other conditions, tell the doctor if you recently hurt your wrist, arm, or neck, and he/she will likely do a physical exam to check the feeling, strength and appearance of your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. The doctor may also ask about health problems such as arthritis, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and pregnancy, and suggest some tests such as blood tests to see if any health problems could be causing symptoms, and nerve testing to see if the median nerve is working properly.

The good news is that mild symptoms can sometimes be treated at home, but starting treatment early is best because there is less chance of long-term damage to the nerve.
Dr. Jones advises that some things that can be done at home to lessen the severity of symptoms include:

  • • Stopping activities that cause discomfort
    • Resting wrists between activities
    • Icing the wrist for 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day
    • With the advice of your doctor try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce swelling
    • Wearing a wrist splint at night to keep the wrist in a neutral position

If symptoms don’t get better after one to two weeks of home care, see a doctor for medication, a referral to physical therapy or surgery.

During surgery, the doctor cuts the ligament at the top of the carpal tunnel to increase room and relieve pressure on the nerve. Surgery usually works, but sometimes does not completely get rid of numbness or pain.

To keep carpal tunnel syndrome from coming back, take good care of your wrists and hands.

• Try to keep your wrist in a neutral position.
• Use your whole hand to hold objects – not just your fingers
• When you type, keep your wrists straight, with your hands a little higher than your wrists.
• Relax your shoulders when your arms are at your sides.
• Switch hands often to prevent overuse.