How to Deal With Carpal Tunnel

Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.

Day after day, you sit at a computer pounding away at the keys and perusing the internet. Your priority? Getting the work done. Your execution? Not always the best, since you keep getting lost in a sea of distractions. Your positioning? Bad.

It’s easy to forget about form and posture when your focus is elsewhere, but when you start developing pain in your wrist and numbness or tingling in your hand and fingers, you’re going to want to stop what you’re doing, step away from the computer and make some adjustments.

You might have carpal tunnel syndrome.

The “carpal tunnel” is formed at the palm of your wrist. The narrow passageway or “tunnel” is created by the small carpal bones that make up the wrist joint and the flexor retinaculum, a fibrous ligamentous band that covers it. Multiple structures pass through, including nine tendons of the fingers and thumb and one major nerve, the median nerve, which provides circulation, movement/function, and sensation to the thumb and first two fingers of the hand.

By definition, carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve. That can occur after sustained time resting the wrists and applying pressure to this space, like when you’re typing. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling and often discomfort so affecting that you need to stop what you’re doing. If left untreated, carpal tunnel related pain or numbness can be quite uncomfortable and may even limit your ability to do your job.

A quick Google search will reveal are all types of splints and surgeries, but the first thing you want to do to relieve carpal tunnel pain is adjust your body positioning and the time spent in aggravating positions.

Your Move

Modify your positioning. To relieve carpal tunnel pain, reduce the pressure on the median nerve. To do this, avoid sustained wrist flexion positions or time spent at a computer (if/when possible). If you must use a computer, make sure your wrists are in a more neutral position or supported below the carpal tunnel area by a cushion or gel pad to avoid sustained direct pressure on the median nerve. Splints may help maintain this position.

Be sure your elbows are at a 90-degree angle (or more), your forearms are at elbow height, and you are sitting up tall without rounding your shoulders jutting your head forward. Take frequent breaks to elevate and shake out your hands, loosening up the muscles, reducing pressure and tension in the wrist and hands. Use diction (speaking into your phone) instead of spending hours texting. Modify time spent typing at a computer if possible.

Nerve glides and stretches. Get that median nerve moving with nerve glides. Begin with wrist in neutral making a fist with your hand. Extend fingers and thumb while keeping wrist neutral to make “stop” signal with hand. Extend wrist, and fingers followed by the thumb. Supinate forearm so that the palm is up and gently stretch thumb. Repeat this pattern 10 times a few times a day.

Also, be sure to stretch the forearm wrist extensors and flexors by extending the arm and folding the hand and finger forward (down towards the palm) and upwards (“stop” position), holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.

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