What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? The Symptoms & Treatment Options

Written by Leah Bell-Steele
Physiotherapist, University of Queensland
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022

Woman clutching at her wrist in pain

In our hyper-digitalised world, jobs require prolonged use of computers, and entertainment is always in the palm of your hands. As a result, we are using electronic and mobile devices now more than ever, which poses some health risks that can affect the quality of your life.

One of the most common hand injuries associated with the excessive use of mobile devices and working on a computer is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). CTS is a painful condition that causes compression of the nerves that pass in the carpal tunnel of your wrist.

Common Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Numbness and tingling sensation on the palm of your hands and fingers

  • Prolonged use of your hand worsens the symptoms

  • It gets worse during the night

  • Muscle wasting of the palm

  • Weak grip strength

  • Frequent dropping of things or difficulty gripping

Risk factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome results from the compression of the median nerve that runs to your wrist. Therefore, any factors that can cause the carpal tunnel to decrease in diameter increase CTS risk.

  • Females are more susceptible to CTS due to the biological smaller size of the carpal tunnel compared to males

  • Previous hand injuries such as fractures

  • Pregnancy

  • Diabetes

  • Use of vibrating tools such as heavy machinery for construction or power tools

How to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

  • Phase your activities. Take frequent breaks when doing computer work or any activities that require prolonged use of your wrists and hands

  • Use a pillow. It is advisable to avoid sleeping on your hands

  • Stretch your wrist to keep your tendons and muscles flexible

Physiotherapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Physiotherapy is the go-to treatment for dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome. A physiotherapist will evaluate the severity of your condition and will provide you with proper treatment to help you manage the symptoms and improve your recovery.

Treatment by a physio may involve the following:

  • Night splint prescription to limit the movement of your wrist at night and prevent further compression of the carpal tunnel.

  • Ergonomic assessment and education minimise carpal tunnel stress when working.

  • Exercise prescriptions to maximise your recovery and correct impairments.

  • Manual therapy to improve your joint and soft tissue mobility.

  • Modalities such as ultrasound and electrotherapy may be given to help you manage the pain and accelerate the healing process.

Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Surgery may be an option if symptoms persist and worsen even after undergoing conservative treatments. A physio may refer you to a surgeon to surgically release the pressure in the carpal tunnel. Physiotherapy will then help you to recover and regain your function following surgery.

A physiotherapist will work on your recovery following surgery through the following treatment:

  • Exercise to regain the strength and flexibility of your wrist and hand.
  • Scar management and treatment to keep the skin flexible and prevent contractures.
  • Education to help you manage your condition and avoid carpal tunnel compression at home.
Written by Leah Bell-Steele
Physiotherapist, University of Queensland
Published on July 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on July 21, 2022
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