Hand Pain – Is it Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Pain Relief Means Getting the Diagnosis Right
Needless to say, as a hand therapist, I get asked about hand pain all the time. Even when I’m not at the clinic and I reveal my profession I sometimes get comments closely resembling something like this: “Oh you’re a hand therapist? I should come see you. I’m pretty sure I have carpal tunnel.” “Well, let’s see,” I’ll say, “ do you have pain, numbness and tingling in the palm side of your thumb, index finger, middle finger and maybe also part if your ring finger?” If that’s not the case then we might be looking at a different diagnosis for hand pain. So let’s explore that…
It seems as though the term “carpal tunnel” has grown synonymous with chronic hand pain within some of general population. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, apparent from the expressions on the faces of my hand therapy patients, is a phrase synonymous with the same fear and anxiety surrounding the The Big Bad Wolf or of my own reaction to a riveting episode of Game of Thrones. But what really is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? What are the symptoms? And, is it really that scary?
As an occupational therapist working in a hand therapy specific setting, I see many patients each day affected by this diagnosis. In a few short moments, I am going to try my best to clarify some of the possible misconceptions surrounding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Rest easy friends, it is less complicated than you may think.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? What are the symptoms?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist. So let me try to map it out for you. The “carpal tunnel” is actually a small passage or “tunnel” that is located at the wrist. The median nerve and flexor tendons run from the forearm through the carpal tunnel and into your hand. When your median nerve is compressed at the location of the carpal tunnel, this is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s a very common compression site for the median nerve. The median nerve is a peripheral nerve responsible for sensation to the palm side of the thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger. That’s why symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include pain, numbness, or tingling, usually to these areas of your hand.
If you are experiencing these symptoms and you have questions about what you can do, the best first step is to go see your primary care physician. They may refer you to your local hand therapist or orthopedic hand doctor who can help properly diagnose you and direct you in the appropriate steps to take.
When it comes to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome there are a variety of treatment options, both surgical and non surgical, so do not fret! It’s important however, to seek treatment as soon as possible after starting to experience symptoms. By getting treated early, you may decrease the likelihood of other complications or surgery.
A hand therapist can help provide non surgical treatment options such as instructing you in optimal positioning during daily activities, suggest possible activity or environmental modifications, and teaching you appropriate exercises. A highly skilled hand therapist could also recommend or fabricate a wrist orthosis that could potentially help decrease some of your symptoms. Hand Therapy may also be recommended by your physician after surgery and be key to a successful recovery.
Despite what we might have heard, not all hand pain is due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you are having symptoms, it’s important to get it diagnosed by a physician who specializes in treating hand and upper extremity pathology so that you can start the right treatment as soon as possible. If you are diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome however, do not worry, there are a variety of treatment options, both surgical and non surgical that could help relieve your hand pain. Hand Therapists can be key in treating Carpal Tunnel and provide you with valuable interventions and instruction that can greatly assist in your recovery.
The facility and staff were absolutely wonderful. Michelle was my occupational therapist for hand therapy and did a wonderful job at improving the range of motion of my wrist. I went to Mesa Physical Therapy after having surgery on my wrist. My wrist did not return 100% to it's original function (it RARELY ever does) but they did a great job at getting me to my limit. I would say I'm back 85-90% I enjoyed every session and actually looked forward going to these appointments! They're great conversationalists! Negina, one of the aides was just as friendly and helpful as well! I would definitely recommend them to anyone and would be my first goto if I broke another body part lol.
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