Helping Seniors Live Healthier Lives

When Pain In Your Wrists Keeps You From Working

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve running through your wrist becomes irritated. It can be so severe that you can no longer grip anything with your hand. Pain and numbness can interfere with your work and home life. Here is how this injury becomes so debilitating and what treatment options are available.

Median Nerve Irritation

The median nerve runs along your arm, through your wrist and into your hand. The bones in your wrist form a narrow channel through which the nerve travels to protect the nerve from injury. This channel is what causes the pain and irritation of the median nerve.

Changes in the bones in your wrist from osteoporosis or an abnormal bone growth put pressure on the nerve in the carpal tunnel. Constant pressure on the nerve from overuse or pressing your wrist against a hard object, such as the corner of a desk, can cause median nerve irritation.

When irritated this way, the nerve becomes inflamed, which causes it to rub against the bones in the carpal tunnel more. This increases the irritation until the nerve becomes painful and you have a numbing sensation in your hand and wrist. When this happens, picking up objects and holding onto them becomes difficult.

Short Term Treatment Options

Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment initially focuses on reducing your pain and the irritation of the nerve. A neurosurgeon will diagnose the extent of the nerve irritation and use non-invasive techniques to relieve your pain including:

  • The use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to reduce the swelling of the nerve.
  • Physical therapy to slowly stretch out constricted muscles in your wrist that contribute to the irritation of the nerve.
  • Hot and cold packs to increase circulation in your wrist and reduce swelling.
  • Injection of steroids in your wrist to reduce inflammation of the nerve and other soft tissues.
  • Wrist supports to protect the nerve from pressure placed against it by work surfaces.

Long Term Treatment Options

Once the immediate pain and inflammation are gone and you have the use of your wrists again, the neurosurgeon will offer a couple of surgical procedures to prevent future problems:

  • Enlarging the carpal tunnel - By shaving off small amounts of bone around the nerve, the channel is made bigger to accommodate a moderate amount of swelling of the nerve.
  • Reshaping of the channel - When the bones in the wrists have changed due to arthritis, the neurosurgeon can recreate the channel so it no longer puts pressure on the nerve.

Along with these surgical treatments, your doctor will talk with you about changes you can make to prevent future nerve irritation such as:

  • Taking breaks from working with your wrists to allow the median nerve to relax.
  • Adjusting your work surfaces so pressure is not being constantly applied to your wrists.
  • Keeping your hands and wrists warm while you work.
  • Using wrist supports when doing repetitive motions that affect your wrists.

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