13 Signs You Should Start Wearing a Carpal Tunnel Brace
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve—one of the major nerves that runs from the wrist into the hand—is squeezed or compressed by inflammation, swelling and even a thickening of the wrist tendons. This inflammation is usually caused by repetitive motion, though there are many possible causes of carpal tunnel. Below, we explain the symptoms and risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome to help you figure out if you should wear a carpal tunnel brace or pursue another type of treatment.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
If it’s too late to prevent carpal tunnel from developing, the next best thing is to catch it early, before the nerve damage can progress. Here are the symptoms to watch out for, from least to most severe:
- Numbness and/or tingling
- Hand or wrist pain
- Feeling like you need to “shake out” your hands
- Symptoms that start or worsen at night
- Hand stiffness first thing in the morning
- Unexplained itchiness
- Fingers feel swollen, even though they don’t appear to be
- Symptoms begin to travel up your forearm and, potentially, into the shoulder
- Intermittent “shocks” in your thumb and forefinger
- Sensation of burning
- Weakening muscles
- Trouble gripping objects and making a first
- Difficulty sensing temperature
In most people, the dominant hand is affected first and will experience the most severe symptoms. The symptoms tend to manifest at night because many people sleep with their wrists bent, which puts extra pressure on the median nerve. Symptoms may also appear infrequently and then go away. As the condition worsens, symptoms become more steady and appear during the day as well.
Symptoms can appear in all parts of the hand as well as the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and part of the ring finger. The other part of the ring finger and the pinky finger are controlled by a separate nerve, so symptoms usually don’t manifest in these fingers.
Causes and Risk Factors of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel usually only occurs in adults because children aren’t old enough to accumulate the repetitive motion and joint stress that triggers the condition. While there usually isn’t one single identifiable cause of carpal tunnel, you’re more likely to develop the syndrome if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling
- Mechanical problems in the wrist joint
- An occupation or hobby that involves repetitive motion
- Any condition that affects the size of the wrist canal (arthritis, a cyst, etc.)
- An overactive pituitary gland
- An underactive thyroid gland
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause
Anyone of any occupation can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, though certain jobs involve more repetitive motion and, therefore, place employees at a greater risk of developing the syndrome. For example, assembly line workers are usually at a higher risk of carpal tunnel syndrome because of the repetitive nature of their work. Other occupations that may involve repetitive motion include garment works and tailors, farmers, mechanics, locksmiths, gardeners, painters, janitors, carpenters, cashiers, poultry processors, agricultural workers and musicians.
Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. While the reasons for this aren’t completely known, it may be because the carpal tunnel can be smaller in women than men. People who have diabetes or other metabolic disorders that directly affect the body's nerves—and, therefore, make them more susceptible to compression—are also at higher risk. The development of a cyst or tumor in the wrist canal also may also contribute to the nerve compression.
Ways to Alleviate Carpal Tunnel Pain
What can you do to manage your carpal tunnel pain? Your doctor might recommend a combination of several options, including:
- Carpal Tunnel Brace: Sometimes called a wrist support brace, a carpal tunnel brace holds your wrist in a straight or neutral position to keep you from bending it and putting more pressure on the nerve. Depending on the design of the wrist support brace, it may also restrict the movement of the thumb as well.
- Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation for temporary relief of symptoms.
- Steroid Injections: Corticosteroid, or cortisone, is often used to treat inflammation of the joints such as carpal tunnel. However, the relief may only be temporary, and your doctor may also limit the number of shots to avoid damaging the cartilage in your wrist joint.
- Nerve Gliding Exercises: Your doctor might recommend nerve gliding exercises that are specifically designed to relieve pain and help the median nerve move more freely within the carpal tunnel. A physical therapist can show you how to do these exercises properly.
- Activity Changes: If either work or recreational activities are causing your symptoms to get worse, your doctor might recommend that you modify or cease these activities to avoid further damage.
If you think you might be developing carpal tunnel syndrome, talk to your doctor to see if a wrist support brace or another non-invasive option can help relieve your symptoms.