What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
People recognize carpal tunnel syndrome as a condition that causes wrist and hand pain, tingling, weakness, and other symptoms. The carpal tunnel itself is a narrow passageway in the wrist joint through which the median nerve travels to the hand. The tunnel measures only about an inch in width and has bones on three of its four sides. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which undue pressure is placed on the median nerve. This pressure originates with swelling of the flexor tendons and surrounding synovium tissues. Because the carpal tunnel cannot expand, this swelling narrows the opening and compresses the nerve that supplies most of the hand with feeling.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
In most cases, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can be traced back to repetitive use. Wrist posture and the repetitive movement of the fingers, hand, or arm may aggravate the tendons that pass through the wrist, resulting in inflammation and swelling. However, there are often multiple contributing factors at play. According to research, women develop carpal tunnel far more often than men. The condition may be hereditary to some degree because bone structure can be an overall family trait. Extreme flexion of the wrist repeated frequently may also cause inflammation, as can hormonal shifts during pregnancy. People with certain health conditions may also have a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel. Examples include metabolic conditions, diabetes, fluid retention, rheumatoid or degenerative arthritis, and injury to the wrist.
How can Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Help?
Physical therapists are experts in movement. For many people with carpal tunnel syndrome, physical therapy is an excellent treatment option for pain relief. Every patient who engages in physical therapy for carpal tunnel is given a personalized treatment plan based on the specifics of their case. A comprehensive physical therapy program can get patients back to their everyday activities quickly and comfortably. Some of the ways in which PT can assist patients with carpal tunnel include:
- Education. A physical therapy regimen may include discussion about the movements and activities that may trigger inflammation of the tendons in the wrist. Patients may discover the movements they frequently make are contributing to their problem and also how to change those movements to support neck, arm, wrist, and hand posture. For example, slouching or maintaining a head-forward posture can instigate inflammation in the tendons that pass through the wrist.
- Stretching. A physical therapist often teaches patients gentle stretching exercises that improve the flexibility and range of motion in the wrist, hand, and fingers.
- Strength. Specific exercises may also be developed to increase the strength of the muscles in the arms, hands, and wrist.
- Therapeutic modalities. Physical therapy often involves the use of heat, ice, ultrasound, or other therapeutic modalities that decrease inflammation and promote tissue healing.
How Long Does Physical Therapy for Carpal Tunnel Take?
Consistency is a major factor in successful physical therapy treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition to attending all scheduled appointments, patients should also perform their prescribed exercises and stretches in between visits. Typically, a physical therapy program for carpal tunnel lasts from four to six weeks. This is an average, with some patients needing less and some needing more. The program is developed based on the severity of the condition and the existence of contributing factors.
Do I need Physical Therapy to Treat My Carpal Tunnel?
In general, it is believed that carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to get worse without treatment than better. Physical therapy represents the most conservative yet most formal treatment for the symptoms of carpal tunnel. In one study of over 100 women, physical therapy achieved faster results than surgery in the reduction of carpal tunnel symptoms. While symptom resolution was comparable between the surgery group and the physical therapy group, those who engaged in physical therapy felt better sooner than their counterparts. Do you need physical therapy to resolve carpal tunnel syndrome? If home remedies such as rest, splinting, and ice are not helping, it's safe to say that you could benefit from a more formal treatment program.
Will Surgical Treatment Alongside Physical Therapy Help More?
Physical therapy is not limited to exercises and stretching. A therapist may also treat inflammation and swelling with multiple other modalities. Still, in some cases, patients need surgery to relieve the pressure on the median nerve. Even when surgery is necessary, physical therapy plays an important role in recovery and rehabilitation. After surgery, physical therapy may focus on preventing the formation of rigid scar tissue. A PT program will help restore wrist strength and will help patients understand what habits led to pain and how to avoid them in the future. Stretching exercises after surgery can help improve wrist and finger mobility, while education can support optimal posture and wrist position to avoid nerve compression during work or leisure activities.
Schedule a Visit
Cynergy Physical Therapy And Occupational Therapy has five locations throughout New York City and Brooklyn. Our team consists of highly trained, experienced physical and occupational therapists who treat patients of all ages with gentleness, compassion, and a wealth of knowledge. If you require physical therapy or occupational therapy for carpal tunnel or other conditions, we would be happy to assist you in restoring optimal comfort and mobility. Contact us today to schedule your visit to a location near you!