A few years ago I started waking up in the middle of the night with a numb thumb and index finger. I thought I’d slept on my hand or something. A few days later, I started feeling pain in my fingers during the day and my wrist ached most of the time. We sell a lot of wrist wraps for carpal tunnel so I knew a little bit about it, but I wasn’t 100% sure that was what it was. I did some research and what confirmed it was the fact that my little finger was never numb when I woke up, but my thumb and two of my fingers were. That’s one of the characteristics of the symptoms, because the nerve that is pinched doesn’t extend into your pinkie finger. Luckily the pain went away completely when I wore a specially designed wrist support for a few nights, and for a couple days while I was typing. Now I just wear it when I start getting achy wrists, but it is very rare.
Where is the Carpal Tunnel?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway – about as big around as your thumb – on the palm side of your wrist. It protects a main nerve (the Median Nerve) to your hand and nine tendons that bend your fingers.”
Pressure placed on the median nerve produces the numbness, pain and eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Anything that reduces the space for the median nerve, within the carpal tunnel, can cause pressure on the nerve. While some research shows that carpal tunnel syndrome can result from repetitive use of the tendons in the hand, other possible causes range from rheumatoid arthritis to hormonal disorders (diabetes, thyroid, menopause), wrist injuries and fluid retention. Or perhaps your carpal tunnel is just narrower than average.
Repetitive computer use is commonly assumed to cause CTS, but according to Mayo Clinic the scientific evidence for this association isn’t definitive. However, you may be at a higher risk for carpal tunnel if your work or hobbies involve a combination of awkward, repetitive wrist or finger motions, forceful pinching or gripping and working with vibrating tools.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of CTS
Your doctor can do a series of tests to determine whether you have CTS, but one diagnostic key is that the median nerve doesn’t reach the little finger, so if you wake up and your fingers are tingling and numb, but your pinkie isn’t, you might have carpal tunnel syndrome. Another clue is ‘when’ you experience the symptoms. Typically you might feel weakness, tingling or numbing while holding a phone or a newspaper, gripping a steering wheel or waking up during the night. Mine starts with a general ache in my wrist.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
The good news is that most people can be effectively treated for CTS non-surgically with wrist splinting, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids (cortisone injections). The wrist supports/splints/gloves designed for carpal tunnel relief prevent flexion of the wrist and holds it in a neutral position so you can’t squish the median nerve. Our most popular wrist splint is the Smart Glove but there are many on the site to choose from. We also have an area on the site where you can “Shop by Condition” for a variety of Carpal Tunnel Products including wrist supports, hammers, tools and daily living aids.
If you can’t get relief non-surgically and you have symptoms for more than 6 months, your doctor may recommend surgery to cut the ligament pressing on the nerve. From what I’ve seen and heard, this is not where you want to end up and I would have plenty of second opinions first.
If you have the symptoms of CTS, I suggest you get started on a conservative treatment right away. Stop sleeping on your hands and wear a wrist splint at night. If the pain persists, see your doc.
Want to set up a healthy computing area? Read “Top 10 Healthy Computing Products” for ideas.