Have you ever experienced numbness, pain, or tingling in your hand? Although it may be caused by a temporary injury, ongoing pain and numbness could point to carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition affects approximately three to six percent of the adult population and symptoms usually begin gradually without any specific injury.
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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
“Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure being placed on the median nerve at the wrist, which controls sensations of the thumb, index, middle fingers, and one half of your ring finger,” says Kimberly Maguire, MS, OTR/L, CHT, facility director and occupational therapist at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute outpatient rehabilitation clinic in Oakland. “Thyroid disease, swelling and hormonal changes due to pregnancy, the use of vibratory tools such as jackhammers, and repetitive use of the hands and wrists in daily living can put you at a higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.”
If the symptoms become severe, surgery may be required to relieve pressure on the median nerve. Hand therapy after surgery can help you heal more quickly and achieve optimal function. During hand therapy, exercises are performed to improve nerve healing, increase range of motion and strength, reduce the formation of scar tissue, and decrease swelling.
“Depending on the patient, occupational therapy will begin approximately one week after surgery and will continue two to three times per week for four to six weeks,” said Kimberly. “In the beginning, your therapy will involve soft tissue massage and modalities to combat swelling. Since you may still have stitches, you’ll perform milder exercises that focus on improving your range of motion by bending your fingers, stretching, opening and closing the hand, and moving your wrist. Paraffin wax, whirlpools, massage to push fluids out of the affected area, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation may also be used.”
As you advance in your therapy, your exercises will focus more on strengthening your hand muscles and stabilizing your joints. You may squeeze and stretch therapeutic putty and do wrist curls with small weights to strengthen your hand. These activities will help with the healing process, increase your ability to perform activities of daily living, participate in hobbies, and prepare you for your return to work. Your therapists will also show you a variety of techniques to help avoid future problems with your hand.
If you are experiencing ongoing numbness, pain, or tingling in your hand, talk to your doctor or occupational therapist about receiving a carpal tunnel syndrome evaluation. Learn more about hand therapy at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute.
The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.