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Published on February 25, 2018

hands with blue wrist brace typing on laptop.

Eight signs you could have carpal tunnel syndrome

By Maria Perdikis

Lawrence Memorial Hospital

Many people who have pain or tingling in their hand often assume they have carpal tunnel syndrome. So it’s worth checking with your physician to determine what help is available to relieve your symptoms.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that occurs when undue pressure is placed on your median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. The carpal tunnel comprises eight wrist bones, nine tendons and the median nerve. Swelling or inflammation in this small tunnel can place pressure on your median nerve and cause the pain and tingling that’s called carpal tunnel syndrome.

People who engage in repetitive activities with their hands for long stretches of time – such as people who do a lot of computer keyboarding or work on an assembly line -- are at greater risk for developing inflammation of the carpal tunnel. However, repetitive use of your hands isn’t the only reason carpal tunnel develops. Your chances are greater if you’ve broken your wrist, if you’re pregnant or if you have arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

If you’re concerned about your hands, here are eight signs you could have carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Numbness and tingling affecting primarily the palm side of your thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of your ring finger.
  • Painful burning or shooting pains along your hand, wrist or forearm.
  • Muscle cramps in your fingers, palm, wrist and forearm.
  • You tend to drop objects and your grip isn’t as strong as it used to be.
  • Your sleep is disturbed because your wrists are bent. The accumulation of fluids in your hands and wrists may occur when you’re sleeping. These fluids, which do not drain properly while you’re lying down, place extra pressure on your median nerve.
  • Muscle wasting, also called atrophy, which is first noted along the muscles under your thumb.
  • Morning stiffness in your fingers and hands.
  • Difficulty accurately detecting hot and cold using your fingers and hands.

Some techniques can reduce the amount of stress on your hands and wrists, which can reduce the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These also may help relieve your symptoms.

  • Keep your wrist in a neutral or straight position – both when it’s resting and when you’re performing activities such as keyboarding.
  • Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand. This can overstretch the nerve in your carpal tunnel.
  • Take breaks every 10 to 15 minutes when doing repetitive or stressful activities with your hands.
  • Use tools, such as ergonomic keyboards or ergonomic gardening tools.
  • Switch hands during repetitive activities.
  • Wear wrist splints when sleeping to help ensure your wrist remains in a neutral position.
  • Avoid repetitive gripping and pinching. For example, avoid wringing out washcloths with your hands.
  • Reduce force during activities and relax your grip. Do not force open jars with your hand. Instead, use a jar opener.
  • Sit or stand with good posture.

If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome because of symptoms you are experiencing, visit your primary care physician. Your doctor may suggest you see a hand specialist and surgeon, such as Dr. Neal Lintecum of OrthoKansas at 1112 West Sixth Street, or a neurologist who practices at Lawrence Neurology Specialists, 1130 West Fourth Street. Both practices are affiliated with Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

These specialists will further investigate and, in some cases, will refer you to an occupational therapist for treatment. They also might suggest surgery as an option.

-- Maria Perdikis is an occupational therapist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which is a major sponsor of Lawrence Journal-World’s health section. She can be reached at maria.perdikis@lmh.org.

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