What is Carpal Tunnel? How a Wrist Sleeve Can Help
If your hands frequently burn, tingle or itch—especially if it’s accompanied by a feeling of numbness—you might have carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is common in those who work in assembly lines and otherwise use their hands frequently. More than three percent of working American adults have carpal tunnel syndrome. Read on to discover the symptoms and causes of carpal tunnel, as well as treatment options, such as wrist braces.
Symptoms and Causes of Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when one of the major nerves that runs from the wrist into the hand (the median nerve) is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. This compression occurs when the tendons in the wrist become irritated from repetitive motion, which causes inflammation, swelling and even a thickening of the tendons. Once the tendons swell, they narrow the size of the carpal tunnel and put more pressure on the median nerve, causing pain.
Symptoms usually begin mildly and gradually and then progress from there, so early detection is key. Common symptoms include a sensation of burning, tingling, itching or numbness in any or all parts of the hand except the pinky finger and part of the ring finger, which are controlled by a separate nerve (so symptoms may manifest in the palm, thumb, index finger or middle fingers). As the syndrome progresses, your grip might weaken or otherwise become affected.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually only occurs in adult patients. While anyone working in any occupation may develop carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s more common in individuals who perform repetitive motions with hands in their line of work (i.e., manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, fish packing, etc.)
The syndrome often occurs in patients who have smaller carpal tunnels, which gives the nerve less room to move. This is one of the main reasons that women develop carpal tunnel three times more often than men. Other conditions may also contribute to the development of carpal tunnel, such as hypothyroidism, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and pregnancy.
Early detection and treatment of carpal tunnel is critical to preventing permanent nerve damage. If you have any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting a diagnosis.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel
Thankfully, if carpal tunnel is caught early it’s possible to slow or stop the disease from progressing. Below are five treatment options your doctor might recommend for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Braces and Splints
Carpal tunnel wrist supports are key to keeping your hand in the proper position and preventing extra stress from impacting the median nerve. A carpal tunnel wrist brace holds your wrist in a straight or neutral position to keep you from bending it and putting more pressure on the nerve. These braces may or may not restrict the movement of the thumb as well, depending on whether or not you have symptoms in your thumb. You can wear a wrist sleeve during the night to keep you from unknowingly bending your wrist as you sleep. Your doctor might also recommend that you wear a wrist support brace during the day if you engage in activities that can aggravate your symptoms, such as typing.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. These medications work by reducing your body’s production of chemicals called prostaglandins, which help to cause inflammation, pain and fever. You can pick NSAIDs up at your local drug store or grocery store.
Corticosteroid, or cortisone, is often used to treat inflammation of the joints such as arthritis—and carpal tunnel. Your doctor will inject the steroid into the carpal tunnel to relieve pain or help manage a flare-up. However, effects may only be temporary, and your doctor may limit the number of cortisone shots you get to avoid damaging the cartilage in your wrist joint.
Nerve Gliding Exercises
Your doctor might recommend hand and arm exercises that are specifically designed to relieve pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. These exercises are designed to help the median nerve move more freely within the carpal tunnel. A physical therapist can show you how to properly execute nerve gliding exercises.
If either work or recreational activities are exacerbating your symptoms, your doctor might recommend that you modify or cease these activities to avoid further damage to the median nerve.
If your symptoms are severe enough, or continue to worsen, your doctor might recommend surgery. However, if it’s caught early enough, carpal tunnel syndrome can often be addressed with wrist sleeves and other non-invasive options. Stay vigilant for symptoms of carpal tunnel and reach out to your doctor if you notice any of the tell-tale signs in your hand movements.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Written July 2018 | Page last updated December 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Percentage of Employed Adults Aged 18–64 Years Who Had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Past 12 Months” https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6049a4.htm
MedlinePlus. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” https://medlineplus.gov/carpaltunnelsyndrome.html
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet” https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
OrthoInfo. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Symptoms and Treatment” https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/
The National Institutes of Health. “Effectiveness of Nerve Gliding Exercises on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Systematic Review” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27842937/