All In The Wrist: Coping with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

On some level, I suppose we can blame Xerox for “popularizing” carpal tunnel syndrome. Their Alto, introduced in 1973, introduced the “mouse” pointing device into the personal computer space, and our wrists have never been the same since. But although mouse and keyboard usage introduced the ailment to the public at large, it's actually three times more likely to occur among assembly line workers than writers or data entry clerks.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched median nerve in the wrist, and the symptoms include tingling, numbness, and weakness, among others. This nerve resides in the carpal tunnel itself, a thin passageway on the palm side of your wrist comprised of bones and ligaments. 

This ailment will hit you gradually. You may only notice it in the morning or night at first, manifest as a “pins and needles” sensation. As it progresses, your hand will begin to grow numb, and you may have trouble telling the difference between hot and cold with it. Finally, the condition can grow so dire that the weakness in your hand will prevent you from properly holding onto objects.

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, see your doctor. It is possible that the symptoms are arising from an injury, arthritis, or some other type of nerve problem.

Your doctor has a number of resources at her disposal to make a definitive diagnosis, including electromyography. In this test, the electrical activity (and possible damage) of your median nerve is tested directly at the end of a fine needle which is inserted into a nearby muscle.

In most cases, treatment will consist of resting your hand and/or wearing a brace to limit and isolate movement. The pain may be handled by cold compresses and non-inflammatory medications such as naproxen and ibuprofen.

In more severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, corticosteroids may be the order of the day. These can be delivered orally or via injection. lidocaine, a local anesthetic, is another option, as diuretics, which are sometimes used to reduce the swelling.

In the worst cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will call for surgery. She will cut the ligament that lay across the top of the tunnel in order to relieve pressure. The ligament will heal, and afford more space within the carpal tunnel.

At least one study has been done which finds value in yoga for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.