My first carpal tunnel diagnosis was informal. I was pregnant, my fingers kept going numb, and pain shot up my arms, keeping me up at night literally writhing in pain. I went to the doctor. He asked some questions, touched some pressure points, and declared I had carpal tunnel. Due to the pregnancy, all I could do was wear wrist braces day and night. The pain got better as the pregnancy progressed, but it never really went away.
About five years later, I still hurt. I went to an orthopedic doctor. She poked and prodded my fingers to see how much numbness I had, then sent me off to get an electromyogram with a neurologist. During the electromyogram, the doctor inserted a very thin needle-like electrode into various points up and down my arm to measure electrical activity. Other than the fleshy part by my thumb, it was fairly painless. The results showed that I had carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve compression. I didn’t need surgery, so the doctor sent me to a physical therapist who reviewed ways to help myself.
Braces are key. The ones sold in stores should be enough if you’re not a candidate for surgery. Make sure they fit correctly and have metal or plastic to hold your wrist in place. The doctor gave me a pair of elbow wraps to wear; however, if you’re unable to find any like them, you can also use a simple Ace bandage, wrapped lightly, to help ulnar nerve compression pain.
One of the first things I learned was to keep my keyboard flat. It keeps me from arching my wrists. I also make sure my chair is at the right height. Using a Bluetooth headset for phone calls also helps; keeping your arm bent to talk on your cell can cause symptoms.
My physical therapist gave me several pages of recommended exercises that help to reduce the fatigue that can cause carpal tunnel. Most involve bending at the wrist or stretching my fingers. They’re simple but make a huge difference in avoiding pain.
When doing yoga poses or push-ups, I avoid putting my palms flat on the ground. Instead, I make a fist and use the flat space between the knuckles. It feels weird at first, but it lets you do more without that pain and numbness. Another trick my doctor shared was to sleep hugging a pillow – it keeps your wrists and elbows in position so that you don’t wake up with numb fingers and hands every day.
Cold and Heat
If all else fails, use cold pack and heat packs! I always keep a few soft packs in the freezer to use at night if I need them. I swap them out with re-usable heat packs.
Carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve compression can problematic, but neither are the end of a normal life. Having them also doesn’t always equal surgery. Sometimes simple life changes are all you need to be able to stay active and keep having fun.