It may be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

by Laszlo Harmat, DO

Many common yardwork activities such as using leaf blowers, chain saws, lawn mowers and many other hand-held tools can cause irritating symptoms in the hands. These particular activities may worsen the symptoms of an existing carpal tunnel problem. There are several conditions that can cause numbness in the hands; however, carpal tunnel is certainly the most common. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is more prevalent in those over 40, it can affect people of all ages.

In the early stages of carpal tunnel we may notice only some tingling or occasional numbness in our hands and fingers. This can be brought on by increased activity or repetitive actions. Initially, this may seem to come and go, but as the condition worsens, it becomes more prevalent with numbness involving the thumb, index and middle finger.

The tell-tale sign of carpal tunnel syndrome is waking up at night or early in the morning with the hands feeling numb and achy. Reaching for the alarm clock with a hand that feels like it is not functioning properly oftentimes is a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. We also may notice numbness while gripping the steering wheel when driving or holding a book while reading.

Some treatment options include stretching exercises where the fingers are pulled back towards the top of the wrist, allowing you to feel the stretch in the palm of your hand. Hold this position for approximately 15-20 seconds then repeat. Mild anti-inflammatory agents such as Aleve or Advil can also be helpful. Other over the counter remedies includes vitamin B6 which may help nerve recovery and can be beneficial in the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. Wearing a wrist splint at night may also help. These splints keep the wrist from bending while we sleep which may prevent the numbness and aching from occurring, allowing us to have a restful night sleep.

If conservative measures do not seem to provide relief, it may be time to seek medical treatment. Nerve tests can be performed to help determine if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or if another problem may be causing your symptoms. These tests can also help determine the severity of your condition. Depending on the test results, treatment can be rendered appropriately.

If discovered in the early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated very successfully through surgical intervention, typically with complete resolution of the tingling and numbness. This procedure, called carpal tunnel release, is a simple out-patient surgery that takes just minutes and can be done with a local or regional anesthetic. The incisions are usually quite small, measuring anywhere from 1/2” to 1” in size. There are several techniques for carpal tunnel surgery and most of them are extremely successful.

If you are waking up with numb hands and having difficulty with daily activities, give conservative measures a try. If your symptoms persist or seem to be worsening, it may be time to visit your physician for a thorough evaluation.

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Dr. Harmat is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who is fellowship trained in conditions of the shoulder, elbow, and hand.  For an appointment with Dr. Harmat, call 440-285-4999.