How to Recognize, Prevent, and Treat the Pain that is Carpal Tunnel

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome In this age of endless keyboards, buttons and touchpads, the pain and inconvenience of carpal tunnel syndrome has become an increasingly widespread problem. Recognizing it for what it is and making the effort to address the problem is more than most people do, which keeps them in pain longer, and once the pain finally goes away most people don’t bother figuring out how to keep it from coming back. You can be different by finding out how to recognize, treat, and prevent the pain that is carpal tunnel below.

Carpal Tunnel vs. Other Wrist and Upper Arm Injuries

Description: Transverse section at the wrist (Gray's anatomy diagram).

It’s important to determine whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome or some other injury, so that you don’t try to cure the pain with carpal tunnel exercises that can hurt your wrists rather than helping them if carpal tunnel isn’t the real problem. Other potential problems your wrist pain could be caused by include:
  • Muscle, Ligament or Tendon Injuries – Injuries to the soft tissues, such as strains, sprains, contusions and tendonitis, can happen for a variety of reasons. Falling and catching yourself awkwardly, twisting your arm muscles at an odd angle (either while awake or during sleep), or receiving a blow during sports or other activities can result in pain very similar to that of carpal tunnel. Stretching regularly can help improve flexibility and decrease your likelihood of sustaining these types of injuries.
  • Pinched Nerves – A pinched nerve occurs when a nerve is compressed by surrounding tissue, causing the nerve to become inflamed and disrupting its functionality. Pinched nerves can have a variety of causes, including poor posture, arthritis, obesity, and—you guessed it—carpal tunnel syndrome. If a nerve remains pinched for an extended period of time, chronic pain and nerve damage can result.
  • Arthritis – Joint strain, auto-immune disease and genetics are all potential factors in determining whether you will get arthritis. There are over 100 types of arthritis, but a common symptom is a painful stiffness and swollenness of the joints that can feel similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. It is most common in people age 55 and over, though it can happen (sometimes temporarily, due to allergies or infections) to younger individuals as well.
  • Bone Dislocation/Fracture – Bone dislocations or fractures should be treated as emergency injuries. It is possible not to realize a bone is broken or dislocated at the time or breaking or dislocation due to distractions, extreme temperatures and even to shock. A broken bone will usually be highly painful to touch, and carpal tunnel exercises would be virtually impossible to perform. Contact a doctor immediately if you think you might have a broken or dislocated bone in your wrist.
Your wrists and hands are some of the most valuable instruments on your body, so it’s important to take special care when attempting to treat injuries in the wrist and upper arm area. If none of the above causes seem likely to you, check out the section below to find out the potential causes of carpal tunnel syndrome and exactly why it hurts the way it does.

Looking Inside the Wrist – What Happens During Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Untreated Carpal Tunnel SyndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome results when the median nerve within your carpal tunnel, which is a tunnel about the width of your thumb that runs up along the palm side of your upper arm, becomes pinched. The median nerve controls your hand and the 9 tendons that give you the ability to bend your fingers. Pinching generally occurs due to combined genetic and environmental factors, including muscle strain associated with awkward, difficult or repetitive movements, obesity, diabetes, pregnancy, and possibly the practice of sleeping on your side.

Once a nerve is pinched, it becomes inflamed and painful. The following symptoms are known to be associated with carpal tunnel syndrome:
  • Painful numbness
  • Outward-radiating pain that can be either sharp, aching or burning
  • "Pins and needles" painful tingling, similar to the sensation of a hand that has "fallen asleep"
  • Muscle weakness that can cause you to drop things or be unable to grip things with the affected hand
  • Unusual dryness of the skin on the hand due to reduced sweating
Chronic pain and permanent nerve damage can occur when carpal tunnel syndrome is left untreated. To alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with carpal tunnel, try the exercises in the following section.

Toughening Up the Tendons – Exercises to Alleviate and Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can sometimes be alleviated in mild to moderate cases through a series of simple "nerve-gliding" and "tendon-gliding" hand exercises that you can learn to do yourself (preferably with your doctor’s approval, so you can be sure it will not make the situation worse). If doing any of these exercises makes your hand feel noticeably worse, discontinue the exercise immediately.
  • "Nerve Gliding" – This type of exercise can potentially worsen your hand’s condition if the nerve is already pinched, so be sure to consult with your doctor before trying it and use it only sparingly. For this exercise, hold your wrist in a neutral (non-flexed) position. Make a fist, then extend your thumb and fingers straight out. Tilt your hand backwards, and then turn your hand palm-side-up and use your other hand to gently tug your thumb.
  • "Tendon-Gliding" – To try tendon-gliding, first hold your hand vertically with fingers extended. Bend your fingers at the second knuckle with your thumb still extended, and then bend your fingers at the first knuckle with your thumb still extended to form a fist. Extend fingers out horizontally from your knuckles, return them to the fist position, and repeat.
  • Compensate for Repetitive Motions – Compensate for repetitive motions with hand motions that move your muscles in different ways. For example, typing requires outstretched hands and bent fingers, so you can compensate for the repetitive typing motions by alternately clenching your hands tightly and stretching your fingers out straight several times.
Though surgery is sometimes a necessity in dealing with a pinched carpal tunnel nerve, exercises can potentially be of help, particularly in combination with other measures such as splinting the affected arm and applying corticosteroids. Keeping your muscles flexible and strong through regular arm exercises can help you to prevent future instances of carpal tunnel syndrome, but you may also want to consider occasionally calling rather than constantly texting once in a while—just in case.
This post is co-authored by Ryan Rivera
Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist and has dealt with numerous medical conditions in the past. He writes about anxiety at

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