Often presenting itself as tingling, numbness and pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of the median nerve in the wrist. Anyone who has experienced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome pain will tell you just how uncomfortable and miserable it can be to live with. As workplace assessors, we usually recommend vertical mice to alleviate the pressure on the nerves in the wrist by positioning the hand in a more natural ‘handshake’ position.
Wanting to learn more about relieving the associated pain of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, we spoke to leading UK myofascial release specialist Amanda Oswald. Working for the last 10 years exclusively with clients suffering chronic pain, Amanda is the founder of the Pain Care Clinic with locations in London’s prestigious Harley Street and elsewhere in the UK.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow bony gap in the wrist through which the median nerve and tendons for the hand pass. Sometimes the tendons in this tunnel can become inflamed (called tendonitis), which puts pressure on the nerve. This causes symptoms such as pain, numbness, pins and needles, and loss of strength in the hand, fingers and sometimes also the forearm.
Signs of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Struggling to type on a keyboard. You might notice you experience some pain when using a keyboard or mouse.
- Elbow pain or even shoulder and neck pain.
- Your hands might experience burning, tingling, or an itching sensation in the night.
- Your hands might feel cold
The symptoms typically start through overuse of muscles that easily fatigue and become irritated. Computer work and manual work involving fine movements of the hands and wrists are the major causes.
Most medical approaches to carpal tunnel syndrome focus only on the wrist. However, most diagnosed cases of carpal tunnel syndrome are nothing to do with the carpal tunnel. The symptoms are caused by fascial restrictions further “upstream,” particularly in the neck, chest, and armpit, which are squeezing the arm nerves and causing the typical symptoms.
Fascia is the main connective tissue in the body and as such wraps around and through all other structures. Taking time to release fascial restrictions through simple exercises can help to reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Fascial stretching is slow and gentle as fascia is a slow-releasing tissue. You will get far better and longer-lasting results by doing one slow 2-5 minute stretch rather than a set of shorter muscle stretches. Here are some useful stretches:
Neck and arms stretch
Allow your arms to hang by your sides and keep your arms and shoulders loose.
Gently move deeper into the stretch, waiting when you feel barriers and slowly breathing into them to allow deeper release. Imagine your opposite arm elongating and stretching away from your neck to create a three dimensional fascial stretch in a pattern from your fingers to your arm, neck, and head.
If it feels comfortable, you can use your hand to deepen the stretch, being mindful not to overstretch your fascia.
Neck and back stretch
Standing or sitting, drop your head forwards onto your chest and turn it so that your nose is pointing towards your armpit. As this stretch develops you will feel the releases moving down your neck into your shoulder and down your back.
Side of the neck stretch
The side of the neck is an area where the nerves for the arms exit from the spinal cord and it can often become tight and restricted, especially in people who use computers a lot. Releasing this area can help with arm and hand pain, as well as more general neck, shoulder, and headache pains.
Lie on your side and place one ball on the floor or bed, resting the side of your neck on it. You may need to place a small pillow under your head for support and comfort.
Be careful not to place the ball too far forwards otherwise it will start to put pressure on your throat. Allow your body weight to sink into the ball, allowing an even pressure on the side of the neck
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Other things to try
Short term relief
- Ice baths: Ice baths are another way to help relieve some pain. Submerge your wrist into icy water, it will temporarily numb the pain.
- Medication: Take pain relievers like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
- Wrist splints: Wrist splints help to keep your wrist straight, which relieves pressure from the nerves causing pain.
- Cut down on the activities and repetitive tasks that could be provoking the pain. Tasks that require you to grip hard on objects or repeat an action continuously can cause Carpal Tunnel. Some examples of these are: Working on a keyboard and mouse, using vibrating hand or power tools and construction work.
- Take breaks frequently from typing or using a mouse and give your wrist a chance to rest.
- Keep your hands warm. Having cold hands can increase the risk of Carpal Tunnel.
- Set up your workstation following ergonomic guidelines
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