As things green up and it feels safe to turn on the sprinklers, May in Colorado brings warm days, beautiful budding trees and plants…and an outdoor to-do list longer than the checkout line at Home Depot.
From gardening and raking to painting and cleaning, many of the most common spring maintenance tasks require the repetitive motions that can lead to hand, finger and/or thumb numbness and pain known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Hand doctors see more than 3 million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome in the US every year and many visits are related to repetitive use of hands and wrists.
The repetitive motion in your hand and wrist creates tension or pressure across the median nerve which controls the feeling and movement in your thumb and fingers. Compression of this nerve, known as carpal tunnel syndrome often presents with symptoms like numbness, tingling, weakness and pain in the hand, fingers and/or thumb.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for the first time, consider the activities you’re doing repeatedly that might be causing the pain – especially if you haven’t done that type of work for some time. Repeatedly squeezing clippers or garden shears, raking, sweeping and painting are all common examples.
If you’re just getting started with spring chores, try to break up continuous periods of activity to prevent pain and other symptoms. If you already have symptoms,it’s probably time for a breakto give your muscles, tendons and nerves a chance to rest and repair. If persistent or worsening, be sure to have your symptoms evaluated. Without treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can weaken your thumb and fingers and reduce coordination.
If you start to experience symptoms, stop the repetitive activity and ice your hand and wrist for 10-15 minutes every couple of hours. You can also take anon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve the pain. It may take a few weeks to recover and be pain free and if you don’t see an improvement in that time frame (after stopping the activities that caused the pain in the first place), it’s time to see an orthopedic physician who specializes in hand and wrist injuries, including carpal tunnel.
A qualified hand doctor can recommend the right combination of evaluation and treatment for your situation and lifestyle.
The sooner you are diagnosed, the better chances you have to stop your pain and prevent any long-term damage. A hand doctor will evaluate your individual situation via a physical exam, x-rays if needed, and recommend a treatment program for recovery. In mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, resting and using a brace – even just at night – can relieve symptoms.
For more serious cases, steroid injections may alleviate the tingling and pain, or surgery can be considered. It’s important not to wait too long before seeing a doctor to determine the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome in case surgery is needed. If the median nerve is compressed for too long, damage to the nerve – and the pain or numbness that goes with it – can be permanent.
Carpal tunnel surgery to release the pressure on the nerve is relatively simple and quick procedure that can be done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. Most patients can return to their normal activities in a matter of days.
For diagnosis and treatment of hand and wrist pain, see an Advanced Orthopedic hand doctor at our Denver or Parker location. Call for an appointment (303) 344-9090.