WHEN SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT...

Carpal Tunnel: Is Your Job A Pain In The Wrists?

Oct. 1, 2019

Spending hours, day after day, on computers, phones or tablets is causing new or more advanced overuse issues in our hands and wrists. Carpal tunnel syndrome — pain, tingling and muscular weakness in the wrist and hand — can affect anyone who uses his or her hands vigorously or repetitively, including office workers, mechanics, musicians and gardeners.

“In its early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome is not necessarily painful,” says Dr. Jennifer Wagner, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper extremities surgeries at Houston Methodist. “At first, you may notice tingling or numbness in your hand, wrist or fingers at nighttime or when you wake up in the morning. As carpal tunnel progresses, symptoms become more painful and noticeable during the day. In severe cases, you may experience weakness in your hands and loss of dexterity or fine motor skills.”

Steps to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms and prevent further injury include:

  • Setting up your work desk and computer keyboard to keep your wrists in a neutral position
  • Using a headset instead of holding the phone to your ear
  • Making sure your work tools fit your hand correctly and using anti-vibration tool wraps and gloves as needed
  • Using automated tools such as electric staplers, hole punches and can openers
  • Taking frequent breaks and alternating activities to rest your hands
  • Doing hand exercises and stretches several times a day

 

Get relief from painful symptoms

Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome may lead to permanent nerve damage. The longer you wait for treatment, the worse it gets. “You should seek treatment if hand pain interferes with your normal activities or disrupts your sleep for more than three or four weeks,” Dr. Wagner says. “We can do a nerve study to find out if your carpal tunnel is mild, moderate or severe, which helps determine the right treatment plan. In some cases, anti-inflammatory medicines or cortisone injections may be used to ease symptoms.”

Surgery is another option for moderate to severe cases, and for those who do not respond to conservative measures. “Carpal tunnel release is a simple procedure that can be done in just a few minutes to relieve pressure on the median nerve,” Dr. Wagner says.