Heat Therapy For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Unlike ice therapy, heat therapy relaxes the blood vessels and increases blood flow. This can be beneficial as it helps deliver oxygen to healing muscles, letting the body recover from injury faster. It is also an effective way to manage wrist pain in the short-term.
Keep in mind that heat therapy should be used with caution, as overexposure can worsen inflammation and swelling. Follow our heat therapy tips below to learn how to get the best effect.
Wrist Flex And Extend
The wrist flex and extend exercise provides carpal tunnel pain sufferers with a deep stretch. Individuals should start by extending the arm straight in front with the palms facing down. The affected wrist needs to be bent with the fingers pointing toward the floor. The other hand can increase the stretch gently toward the body. Afterward, the wrist can return to the palm down position.
How Is It Diagnosed
Physical therapists work together with other health care providers to accurately diagnose and treat CTS. Symptoms of CTS are typical. It is often possible to diagnose it without extensive testing. Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine all the factors that may be contributing to your condition.
They will begin by asking you questions to gather information about your health history and condition. The interview will become more specific to the symptoms of CTS. They may be helped by forms you fill out before your first session. Your physical therapist may ask you:
- Did you experience an injury to the area?
- If so, how did your injury occur?
- Do you perform repeated tasks for your work, or for sport?
- How have you taken care of the condition, such as seeing other health care providers? Have you had imaging or other tests, and received their results?
- What are your current symptoms, and how have they changed your activities?
- Do you have pain. If so, where and how intense is your pain? Does pain vary during the day?
- Do you have trouble doing any activities? What activities are you unable to do?
This information lets the physical therapist better understand what you are experiencing and helps to determine the course of your physical exam.
Several tests may be used to help diagnose or rule out CTS, including:
In some cases, your physical therapist may refer you to a doctor or other health care provider for additional testing or treatment.
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How To Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This article was medically reviewed by Joshua Grahlman, PT, DPT, FAFS. Dr. Joshua Grahlman, PT, DPT, FAFS, is the Founder and Chief Athlete Mechanic of Clutch PT + Performance, a private physical therapy clinic specializing in sports and orthopedics in New York City. With more than a decade of experience, Dr. Grahlman specializes in treating acute and chronic pain and injuries, sports performance optimization and post-operative rehabilitation. Dr. Grahlman earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is one of just a few DPTs in New York City recognized as a Fellow in Applied Functional Science through the Gray Institute for Functional Transformation . He is certified in Active Release Technique and Spinal Manipulation and is a TRX Suspension Training Specialist. Dr. Grahlman has spent his career treating athletes of all levels, from Ironman Champions and Olympians to marathoner moms. He consults for Triathlete, Mens Health, My Fitness Pal and CBS News.There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 73,767 times.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men, perhaps because the carpal tunnel is smaller in women than in men.
Also, people who have certain metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, are more susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome, because these disorders directly affect the bodys nerves and therefore make them more susceptible to nerve compression.
Other medical conditions that may bring on the condition include obesity, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, and trauma. When the condition is brought on by pregnancy, the symptoms usually clear up within a few months after delivery.
Additionally, certain jobs that involve repetitive motion with your arm over an extended period of time may increase your chances of getting the condition. Those jobs include:
- Assembly line worker
- Meat, poultry, or fish cleaning and packing
- Sewer or knitter
In fact, carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry personnel.
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Helpful Life Hacks For Carpal Tunnel Pain
When you have the wrist or hand pain and tingling of carpal tunnel syndrome, it may seem like surgery is the only answer. But there are measures you can take to either avoid or postpone surgery and still have good quality of life.
1.Give wrists a restOne of the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive or extreme wrist motion, so simply resting the wrists and keeping them in a neutral position as much as possible can ease pain and numbness.
2.Use a wrist braceBracing the wrist is one of the most reliable ways to stabilize the wrist and ease carpal tunnel pain. When selecting a brace, choose a structured, firm option that will immobilize the wrist, as opposed a flexible one made of neoprene or elastic.
3.Elevate hands, especially during sleepElevating the hands and wrists can help ease inflammation, particularly at night. This can be done by sleeping on your back and propping your wrists up on pillows. Since keeping your arms straight can also help, try wrapping a towel or ace bandage around your elbows.
5.Ask about job rotationIf your job involves activities such as repetitive assembly line work, talk with your employer about the possibility of rotating tasks to give your wrists and hands a rest.
Can This Injury Or Condition Be Prevented
There is no single proven strategy for preventing CTS, but there are ways to reduce stress to your hands and wrists. Since there are several factors that can contribute to developing CTS, one single solution may not be effective.
The following are effective ways to decrease stress to your hands and wrists:
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Keep Your Wrists Neutral
You can also take steps to keep your wrists in a neutral position. You could wear braces or use a keyboard pad. You should also make sure that your workstation is set up correctly to keep your forearms, wrists, and hands in a straight line. In general, if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you should be aware of your hands position, as over-extending or flexing can trigger your symptoms.
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Does Ice Therapy Help Reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
October 15, 2008 by Kathryn Merrow
Carpal tunnel pain can be treated both with ice therapy and with heat.
There are therapists who believe that ice is often the better treatment for carpal tunnel pain. Ice helps relieve pain and inflammation
Ice slows the blood flow while it acts as a pain reducer with no side effects.
Heat, however, increases the blood flow and so relieves pain by relaxing the muscles. Heat is especially useful with long-standing or chronic carpal tunnel pain
Ice, however, is used for carpal tunnel pain that has just started recently, or for a new injury, or for new treatment.
The recommendation to use ice is generally for the first 48 hours, but the inflammatory stage can last up to 5 days. So, it is okay to use ice or cold therapy for the first 5 days after you start using it.
After that, you can alternate between cold therapy and heat therapy.
Some people dont like to use ice or cold. They find it too uncomfortable.
And, in some cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, ice may not be the best treatment.
People who have impaired blood flow could get worse symptoms by using ice. People with certain vascular diseases that affect the circulation in their hands and arms should not use ice. People with Reynauds syndrome, who often have cold hands, should not use ice for their carpal tunnel pain.
How can you use ice or cold therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Where should you use ice therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome?
And, thats a good thing.
How Common Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects about three out of every 100 people in the United States, although some estimates place the number higher. It is one of the most common causes of partial disability both temporary and permanent. Slightly more than half of those who miss work because of carpal tunnel syndrome miss 31 days in one year. Up to 50 percent of people who have carpal tunnel syndrome have it in both hands.
Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to irreversible nerve and muscle damage. Fortunately, permanent nerve damage usually can be avoided if youre diagnosed and treated early. Among people with a clear diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, treatment relieves most of the pain, tingling and numbness. On the other hand, many people treated for carpal tunnel syndrome report persistent problems, and a few say their hands never get back to normal.
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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
If carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a medical problem , your doctor should treat that problem first. Your doctor may ask you to rest your wrist or change how you use your hand. He or she may also ask you to wear a splint on your wrist. The splint keeps your wrist from moving but lets your hand do most of what it normally does. A splint can help ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome, especially at night.
Putting ice on your wrist to reduce swelling, massaging the area, and doing stretching exercises may also help. An over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug can relieve swelling and pain. These medicines include aspirin, ibuprofen , and naproxen . In more severe cases, your doctor might inject your wrist with a corticosteroid, which reduces inflammation and pain.
About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when a large nerve the median nerve is compressed inside your wrist. This nerve controls feeling in your thumb, index finger and thumb side of the ring finger. The median nerve also controls the muscles at the base of your thumb. The condition gets its name from the eight carpal bones that surround the median nerve in your wrist, forming a tunnel to your hand.
Carpal tunnel surgery releases pressure on median nerve.
The tunnel is just big enough for the median nerve and several tendons to run through it. Anything that makes the tunnel smaller or makes the tendons larger can cut off the circulation to the nerve. When this happens, you notice pain, numbness and tingling in your fingers.
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An Ounce Of Prevention
It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this holds true for carpal tunnel syndrome. By making a few minor adjustments at work or home, you may be able to prevent the pain and weakness that comes with carpal tunnel syndrome.
First, make some modifications to your work environment to prevent CTS. If you work with heavy machinery that causes significant vibration, you must take frequent rest breaks and wear protective gloves that absorb some of the shock of the equipment.
Office workers who spend countless hours at a computer terminal must be sure their office is configured ergonomically. That means that your computer monitor should be slightly below eye level and that your posture must be well supported in an upright position. Wrist supports may be needed for a keyboard and mouse pad to help keep your forearms and wrists in a neutral position. Frequent rest breaks – even for a minute or two – may be warranted to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Regardless of your profession, you should stop occasionally and perform gentle wrist stretches and nerve or tendon grinding exercises. This can help maintain adequate mobility of the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel and prevent the pain and inflammation that comes with carpal tunnel syndrome.
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When To See A Physical Therapist
For many orthopedic conditions like CTS, the best outcomes from physical therapy are achieved when you start rehab soon after the onset of symptoms.
The longer you wait to begin treatment, the more chronic your condition may become and the less likely you are to have a successful outcome. So, if you are feeling symptoms of CTS, check in with your physician right away and ask to be referred to your local physical therapy clinic.
If you do have severe symptoms of CTS, you should still attempt to get relief with your physical therapist. Some severe cases may respond favorably to conservative treatments like physical therapy. If your severe symptoms do not abate within a few weeks, you may need to seek more invasive treatments like cortisone injections or surgery.
If you have surgery for CTS, you may benefit from a course of rehab after the operation. Surgery for CTS involves a small incision in the palm of your hand and your doctor removing the thickened ligament on top of the carpal tunnel, making room for the structures that reside there.
Post-operative rehab usually starts three to four weeks after surgery and may include:
- Gentle progressive range of motion exercises
- Progressive strengthening exercises
- Treatments to reduce swelling and pain
Speaking with your physician about your CTS symptoms, whether you had surgery or not, is a good place to start on your road to recovery.
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Cold Therapy For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Ice therapy reduces blood flow to the carpal tunnel area when applied to the wrist. This process is called vasoconstriction and can help manage swelling, to allow the median nerve to glide more smoothly through the carpal tunnel. By constricting the blood vessels, cold therapy slows nerve activity, numbing hand pain and making it a good choice to use in combination with other treatments.
Get The Right Diagnosis
Reaching out to your doctor is the best first step you can take to find relief. Expect a few possible tests during a doctors visit:
- Tinels sign: Your doctor taps on the underside of your wrist to test how your nerves respond. Many patients feel what they describe as an electric sensation.
- Visual and physical exam: In the worst cases, your doctor may be able to see the muscle loss at the base of your thumb.
- Phalens sign: Youll put your hands in a position similar to praying and then let them fall forward naturally. This position often triggers symptoms.
- EMG and nerve conduction: Your doctor may recommend this test, which is a more involved way to assess nerve function.
Your doctor will also ask about your overall health because diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, an overactive thyroid and other conditions often go hand-in-hand with carpal tunnel. Pregnancy and heredity play a part, too.
On the whole, treatment will target the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, says Dr. Burg. But its important to know how it fits into the big picture. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, treating it may reduce your carpal tunnel symptoms, too.
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Pros Of Using Heat To Treat Carpal Tunnel
Ways To Apply Cold Therapy
There are many ways to try ice therapy for yourself. See which of the following are best for your carpal tunnel syndrome.
With the help of an ice pack, you can apply cold therapy to the wrist for as long as needed. Start with 15 minute sessions, wrapping the cold pack in a towel and applying directly to the underside of the wrist. If you want to reapply, wait at least 30 minutes between sessions. Apply no more than 4 times per day, and check your skin throughout for irritation or discoloration.
Cold massage combines the blood flow regulation of ice therapy with the therapeutic benefits of carpal tunnel massage. With a cold massage roller you can use an ergonomic grip to work the deep tissues in the arm and wrist, while the cold hand roller is a good way to reduce tension while managing carpal tunnel pain.
Ice Therapy Machine
Our ice therapy machine is made to deliver cold therapy to legs and arms, and can even target the carpal ligament. To use, simply fill the included bucket with ice water, wrap the universal therapy pad around your arm, and choose your settings for customized cold therapy. Use the smallest of the three therapy pads for a snug fit to the arm.
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