I suspected my problem was carpal tunnel syndrome back in 2005 and 2006 when I would wake up at night with a painful palm of the hand and/or “pins and needles” in my fingers. I’m a nurse, but not always a smart one. One night when the pain was bad, I put my hand under cold water and the pain skyrocketed. I knew then that I needed surgery.
During the late ’80s and most of the ’90s, I worked at a job where I did nothing but write letters and numbers on sheets of paper. All day. My hand would get tingles at night. Then I decided to attend nursing school while working. This required volumes of note-taking. My right hand would tingle when I raised it above elbow level, which was frequently. The symptoms were not severe, so I pushed off seeing a doctor. I then worked as a school nurse, which involved less repetitive hand motions. However, I decided in 2000 to return to my favorite hobbies – playing the piano and the viola. Both put stress on the hands and fingers. And added to that was my use of the computer, which started in 2001.
Symptoms vary from person to person. They develop gradually. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), mild symptoms include:
- Feeling that your hand is “falling asleep”. This tingling and numbness gets worse when you use it.
- Your forearm may ache.
- Stiffness in the fingers when you wake up.
- Your hand, forearm or wrist can awaken you at night. Shaking your hand and wiggling your fingers may help lessen symptoms.
Moderate to severe symptoms may include:
- Numbness of hand and difficulty grasping an object due to loss of strength.
- Difficulty doing common hand motions, such as holding a fork, or brushing teeth or hair.
- Difficulty holding an object between the thumb and forefinger or opening a jar.
The cause of this condition is the narrowing of an opening in the wrist bones called the carpal tunnel where the medial nerve passes through. The medial nerve controls the movements of the thumb, forefinger, middle finger and half of the ring finger. If you have pain in your pinkie, you do not have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Anything that puts pressure on the medial nerve, such as swelling caused by repetitive movements with the hand bent down, can bring on the symptoms. To be diagnosed correctly, you must see a physician. There are other conditions that may have similar symptoms, such as arthritis of the wrist, some injuries, and other nerve problems.
Helpful treatments and surgery. Care for mild symptoms:
- Stop any activities that cause pain or numbness – rest your hand and wrist.
- Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen to help relieve pain and swelling.
- Ice your wrist for 10 or15 minutes every other hour.
- Wear a wrist brace, like that illustrated. Wear it during the daytime and/or nighttime to relieve pressure on the wrist.
That was my treatment of choice until I finally decided on surgery which I had on July 27, 2006, performed by Dr. Janine Jamieson in an out-patient surgical facility in Edison, New Jersey. Previous to the procedure, I saw a neurologist at the Edison Neurologic Associates for several years, including a visit which determined that I needed the surgery. I was given an electromyogram (EMG) and a nerve conduction study. This determined that the nerve pathway to my hand was defective at the carpal tunnel. After the surgery, my forearm, wrist and hand were placed in a temporary cast which I could remove two days later. Stitches, however, stayed in almost two weeks more. I am so glad I had it done. My right hand has been totally symptom-free since then. However, now my left hand is tingling and occasionally painful. Well, at least I know what to do.