Carpal tunnel syndrome is a chronic condition of the hands that affects millions of Americans each year, impairing their ability to perform manual tasks, excel in the workplace or sometimes just get through the day.
This problematic condition, which is spurred by a compression of the median nerve in the wrist, often begins with relatively minor symptoms, including tingling, burning, itching and numbness in the hand and fingers, but can eventually become debilitating.
Advanced cases of carpal tunnel can rob sufferers of the ability to maintain a firm grip, form a fist or pick up or grasp objects. Though there are many causes of the condition, overuse is the most common.
“People that have carpal tunnel may have difficulty with sleeping, eating, self care, cooking, cleaning and work duties,” says Carrie DeLuca, a senior occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at The Market Common. “Most all daily activities can be affected, making simple tasks much more difficult.
Therapy can help
Although surgery is commonly used to address carpal tunnel, it isn’t necessarily the only option.
A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, for example, found that physical therapy can be just as effective as surgery for carpal tunnel patients.
While the study is useful in shedding important new light on alternative treatment options for carpal tunnel, DeLuca says it’s crucial that every patient still be evaluated and treated on an individual basis. That’s because every patient and every case of carpal tunnel is unique, DeLuca says.
“Therapy may be an option should the symptoms be of sudden onset, or of a more acute form, as opposed to a chronic condition,” she explains. “Therapy may also be an option in a patient who is trying to prevent surgery or when surgery is not an option.”
Other times, however, traditional carpal tunnel surgery may still be the right way forward.
As always, DeLuca says, it’s a decision that patients need to make in consultation with their care team.
“Thorough evaluation is the key for successful diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel, whether it requires surgical intervention or conservative treatment,” she says.