Carpal tunnel syndrome is a wrist ailment that is common in people who perform repetitive movements involving the hand and wrist. It can be painful and limit your ability to effectively perform certain tasks. Carpal tunnel syndrome can often be managed with physical therapy under a doctor's supervision. If surgery is needed to relieve the condition, then physical therapy exercises can help you recover the full use of your hand. Here's what you need to know about your options.
Carpal tunnel syndrome basics
The carpal tunnel is a passageway from your forearm to your palm. It consists of five carpal bones, tendons, and ligaments. The median nerve passes through this tunnel, bringing nerve sensation to the palm and fingers. Various conditions, such as arthritis, repetitive use, certain nervous system diseases, trauma, and genetic abnormalities can damage the tunnel and cause irritation of the median nerve. This can cause numbness, tingling, pain, and loss of hand dexterity. Mild to moderate symptoms can often be relieved with splints, braces, and hand exercises. More severe cases may require surgery to relieve the symptoms.
Physical therapy to help symptoms
When you first start feeling the tell-tale tingling and numbness in your wrist and hand, it's important to see your physician to get a diagnosis as it could be something more serious. Also, the earlier you start therapies for carpal tunnel syndrome and reduce the factors that are causing it, the more likely you can delay or even reduce the need for surgical intervention.
It's important to work with a physical therapist, especially one with experience in hand therapies, as performing certain exercises without learning proper techniques can actually make the condition worse. Also, some prescribed exercises may make the pain worse before it gets better so a therapist can alleviate some of your worries. You don't need a referral from a doctor to see a physical therapist, but he or she may be able to recommend one.
Physical therapy to recover from surgery
The most common surgery to mitigate carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms is to cut the band of tissue that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. That will lessen the pressure on the median nerve and thus reduce numbness and pain. After surgery, your physical therapist will show you the best hand exercises to recover strength and dexterity. These will likely include:
- Stretching exercises to improve the mobility and functioning of the hand
- Exercises to improve the strength of the hand and wrist muscles
- Glide exercises to help the nerve move smoothly through the tunnel
- Scar management exercises to break down scar tissue that can impede proper movement
Carpal tunnel syndrome can severely limit your ability to perform certain tasks at work and home. Often physical therapy can reduce symptoms and even prevent the need for surgery. However, if surgery is required, a physical therapist is an invaluable team member for helping you return to normal and even preventing a recurrence of problems.