You're working on your computer, trying to ignore the tingling or numbness you've had for months in your hand. Suddenly, a sharp, piercing pain shoots through the wrist and up your arm. Just a passing cramp? More likely you have carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist. Even sleep becomes impossible because of the constant pain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), this is a common scenario for many Americans.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist,” says Barbara Shoemaker, occupational therapist with The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) at Silver Cross Hospital. “The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. The carpal tunnel, which is a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand, houses the median nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed. The result may be pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm.”
Free Carpal Tunnel Screening and Non-Surgical Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage to the median nerve. Occupational therapists with RIC at Silver Cross will offer free screenings Wednesday, April 9 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at Silver Cross, 1051 Essington Rd, Joliet. Register to attend this free program by calling (815) 300-6580. Therapists will perform a physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck to determine if the patient's complaints are related to daily activities or to an underlying disorder that mimic carpal tunnel syndrome. They will also examine the wrist for tenderness, swelling, warmth, and discoloration. Each finger will be tested for sensation and the muscles at the base of the hand examined for strength and signs of atrophy. Screening participants will receive at home exercises to relieve the symptoms or prevent future carpal tunnel syndrome and may also be referred to a physician on staff at Silver Cross Hospital if further evaluation or treatment is needed.
Treatments for Relief
Initial treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome generally involves resting the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending. If there is inflammation, applying cool packs can help reduce swelling. Stretching and strengthening exercises can be helpful in people whose symptoms have abated. These exercises may be supervised by a physical therapist, who is trained to use exercises to treat physical impairments, or an occupational therapist, who is trained in evaluating people with physical impairments and helping them build skills to improve their health and well-being. Recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome following treatment is rare. The majority of patients recover completely.
“If treated early, carpal tunnel symptoms usually go away with nonsurgical treatment,” said Shoemaker.
About the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at Silver Cross Hospital
Silver Cross Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have teamed up to expand post-acute physical medicine and rehabilitation services in Will County and the southwest Chicagoland communities. The partnership provides world-class rehabilitation care for a range of conditions for patients close to home. Silver Cross is the only healthcare facility in the area with this breadth of services in partnership with RIC. Together, Silver Cross and RIC provide rehabilitation services in inpatient and outpatient care settings at four locations—at the main Hospital and the Silver Cross Professional Buildings in Homer Glen, New Lenox and West Joliet. Additionally, the RIC team provides therapy services for patients on the hospital’s medical and surgical floors. For more information about RIC at Silver Cross, call (815) 300-7110 or visit www.silvercross.org.