What causes hand and wrist pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome?
A malfunctioning nerve causes carpal tunnel syndrome which can cause wrist pain, hand pain and even elbow pain. Nerves relay signals between the brain and the body. In people with carpal tunnel syndrome, these nerve signals have trouble passing through the relatively tight space of the carpal tunnel, which is in the area along the wrist. This causes an increase in pressure on the nerve inside the carpal tunnel which results in hand and wrist pain.
This increased in pressure on the carpal tunnel nerve is the primary problem, but some medical conditions make nerves more likely to be affected by increased pressure (diabetes and thyroid disease, for example). Older individuals are also more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome. It is usually difficult to pinpoint the specific reason for why someone has carpal tunnel syndrome.
Do symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome "come and go," or are they constant?
Usually carpal tunnel symptoms come and go. Symptoms like wrist pain might wake you up from sleep or they may occur during certain activities like reading, typing or driving. Some symptoms will go away when you move the position of your hand or change what you are doing. The numbness and hand pain tends to become more frequent and last longer as the problem grows worse. In severe cases, symptoms can become constant.
Are there any exercises I can do to help make my carpal tunnel syndrome feel better?
Exercise can decrease symptoms and relieve hand and wrist pain for a lot of people. The goals are to get more blood flowing to the hand, wrist and elbow in order to move the nerve and let the part of the nerve inside the carpal tunnel slip out for a breather.
Try fully curling your fingers into a fist and then bending your wrist toward the palm. Then straighten your fingers and stretch your wrist back the other way. Repeat these motions about ten times.
Remember that carpal tunnel syndrome almost always starts gradually, usually it has been present before you even notice any symptoms or hand and wrist pains. Stretches and exercises have to be performed regularly to be effective. Try to make it part of your daily routine, perhaps each morning and before bedtime.
Are there any activities that I should avoid to prevent my carpal tunnel syndrome from getting worse?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is aggravated more by inactivity than by activity. That's why symptoms and pain are common while sleeping and simple stretching and moving can be helpful. There really are not any specific activities you need to avoid.
Hand pain symptoms can often occur when your hand is in one position for too long. If you have a job or hobby that keeps you in one position, make it part of your routine to take short breaks to stretch and move your hands and arms. Just a few minutes each hour can be enough to prevent problems.
If you are regularly in one position, try to make sure your wrist is relatively straight, because bending the wrist either way increases the pressure around your nerve and causes the wrist pain. If you wake up at night due to symptoms, try a splint on the wrist to keep it straight while you sleep.
At what point should I see a doctor if I think I might have carpal tunnel syndrome?
First, try adjusting your position, stretching, and wearing a splint while sleeping for a couple weeks. If your hand, wrist or elbow pain starts to improve, you are on the right track and you can continue those things until your symptoms are gone. It's time to see a doctor if you aren't making any progress or if your symptoms and pain are getting worse.
What are the recommended treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome? Is surgery the only answer?
Surgery is reserved for carpal tunnel as a last resort. Even if symptoms do not go away with simple treatments like exercise and splints, they can often be controlled or will stay about the same for years.
If you have a condition like diabetes that makes you more susceptible, see your doctor to make sure the diabetes is well controlled.
If you smoke, this is one more reason to consider quitting.
If you're pregnant, you shouldn't even consider surgery, because the problem will usually go away after your baby is born.
Your doctor might recommend an injection into the wrist. Injections usually improve the wrist pain, but sometimes the effects wear off and the symptoms come back. Injections should not be done repeatedly, because they can weaken the tendons in the area.
For more information regarding other types of elbow pain, hand pain or wrist injuries, please feel free to visit American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: http:orthinfo.aaos.org/menus/hand.cfm