Getting Through the Carpal Tunnel

In this day and age, a lot of us spend more time interacting with our computers for work or school than we do actually interacting with people.  Smartphones have stolen the headlines from computers as far as ergonomic issues go, but computers haven’t gone anywhere in most work spaces.  Significant computer use has been attributed to myriad health issues, but one that consistently comes up is carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most commonly known for causing pain or numbness through the palm-side of the hand and wrist.  Weakness of the muscles of the hand, especially those in the thumb, area also common.  These symptoms are often irritated with sleep, gripping or frequent use of the hand/wrist, or the hand/wrist positioned in end ranges of flexion or extension (bent way up or way down).  Activities that involve vibration through the hand/wrist (think construction work) are also commonly provocative. And, of course, frequent use of computers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve issue.  The median nerve is fairly close to the skin near the wrist and is susceptible to compression.  When you’re using a computer, the wrist is often positioned in some level of extension (bent up), which further exposes the median nerve.  Our wrists are often resting on a solid surface, potentially for several hours at a time. This leads to low-grade compression of a nerve over an extended period of time.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be debilitating, but there are things that you can do.  Reducing the compression/force applied to the nerve is usually priority number one.  Here are some steps that can be taken to improve your symptoms.

  • Reducing compression – Using a brace with a padded wrist can certainly help, and the braces are relatively affordable.  If most of your issues are from computer use, a pad for your wrists can provide the same relief. It’s best to use the brace any times symptoms tend to worsen – with computer use, while sleeping, etc.
  • Nerve gliding – Nerve gliding can help improve nerve mobility and blood flow to nerves.  Nerve gliding is easy to mess up though. A common mistake is going to a point of pain.  Nerve gliding should not increase pain. If it does, you’ve gone too far. For carpal tunnel, median nerve glides can provide significant relief.  Nerve gliding is typically done for 20 reps at a time, 5 times throughout the day.
  • Ergonomics – Your positioning is often the most important factor when it comes to something like carpal tunnel.  If your wrist is always extended (bent back) while you’re typing, at work, or using tools, that’s likely going to bother you at some point.  Setting up your workspace ergonomically or learning how to work into a neutral wrist position (slight extension) will help significantly. To best visualize a neutral wrist position, if you make a fist, your wrist will be in a neutral position.  That’s the position your wrist should be if you’re going to be in one position for a long period of time. As an aside, if you’re biking and that produces your carpal tunnel pain, try putting your weight onto your knuckles instead of your wrist, as this can make a huge difference.

Carpal tunnel is a tricky issue, but taking steps to take pressure off the nerve and making it move again is vital to help prevent further nerve irritation.  If you’re struggling to make any improvements, it’s best to see a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or your primary care physician. Nerve issues can come about from a number of issues and are tricky to manage on your own.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

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