Treating That Debilitating Hand And Wrist Pain

If you've recently developed pain and numbness in your hands and wrists, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition affects those who often work with their hands and can become so debilitating that you can't hold onto or pick up anything. Here is what is happening in your wrists to cause this pain and how it can be treated before you lose the use of your hands.

An Irritated Nerve is the Root of the Condition

The median nerve travels down your forearm, through your wrist and into the palm of your hand. A tiny opening, called the carpal tunnel, allows the nerve to pass through the complex arrangement of bones in the wrist. If the nerve becomes irritated in this area, either through injury or disease, it becomes inflamed and painful. As the irritation continues, you'll experience a number of other symptoms including:

  • numbness in your forearm, wrist and hand
  • weakness in your hand
  • pain radiating from the wrist into your hand

The numbness can become so intense that you become unable to grip anything with your hand. You'll lose the ability to pick up a coffee cup or turn a door knob.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This condition often affects those people who work with their hands for a living. It comes on slowly and can impact one or both hands at the same time. Some of the typical causes of this painful condition include:

  • work that requires repetitive motion with the hands and wrists, such as assembly line work
  • resting the wrists on a hard surface while working, such as when working on a computer keyboard
  • a bone disease, such as osteoporosis, which deforms the bones in the wrists causing irritation of the median nerve

Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

If the nerve irritation is work related, you may be able to prevent the condition from occurring or getting worse. Some proactive ways to control this include:

  • take breaks from work to rest your hands a few minutes every hour
  • warm up your hands and wrists before working with them if it's cool out
  • rearrange your work area so you don't rest your wrists on a hard surface when you use them

You can do exercises with your wrists throughout the day to increase the circulation in them and reduce inflammation:

  • rotate your wrists first one way for a few seconds, then reverse the direction
  • flex your wrists up and down several times
  • push the fingers back on one hand with the other to stretch the wrist muscles, then reverse and do the other hand

If you do start to feel numbness or tingling in your wrists, try wearing a wrist wrap or brace that holds your wrist in place and protects it from pressing against a hard surface.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

A visit with a neurologist will pinpoint the cause of the nerve irritation. Your doctor will first recommend non-invasive treatment approaches, but if they fail to give you relief, surgery can be done. Once the source of irritation of the nerve is removed, you'll regain the use of your hands and be free of the pain.

Some of the non-invasive treatments include:

  • medication to reduce the inflammation of the nerve and the pain it causes
  • physical therapy to relax tense muscles in the wrists that are putting pressure on the nerve
  • wrist supports to hold the wrists in a neutral position to relieve pressure on the nerve

Surgical treatment options include:

  • enlarging the carpel tunnel to allow the nerve to pass through without being irritated
  • reconstruction of the bones around the carpal tunnel that were deformed by a bone disease

You will have to wear a wrist support after any surgery to hold the wrist in place as it heals.