I’ve Got Numb Hands. Is It Carpal Tunnel?
This time of year many of us are out working in the yard using leaf blowers, chain saws, snow blowers and many other hand-held tools. These activities aggravate many of our body parts including our hands and can worsen the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. There are several conditions that can cause numbness in the hands, however, carpal tunnel is certainly the most common. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is more prevalent in folks over forty it can affect people of all ages, both men and women.
In the early stages of carpal tunnel, we may notice only some tingling or occasional numbness in our hands. This can be brought on by increased activity or repetitive use of our hands. Initially, this may seem to come and go, only happening occasionally. As the condition worsens it becomes more obvious the numbness is involving the thumb, index and middle finger.
The telltale sign of carpal tunnel syndrome is waking up at night or early in the morning with our hand feeling numb and achy. We may have to shake our hand to get the numbness to go away. Stumbling for the alarm clock with a hand that feels like it is not functioning properly oftentimes is a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. We also may notice the numbness that affects those three fingers while gripping the steering wheel when driving or holding a book while reading.
Some treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome include stretching exercises where the fingers are pulled back towards the top of the wrist quite firmly, allowing you to feel the stretch in the palm of your hand. Hold this position for approximately 15-20 seconds then repeat. Also, mild anti-inflammatory agents such as Aleve or Advil can be quite helpful, however, care must be taken when using these anti-inflammatories as they do have side effects. Other over the counter remedies include vitamin B6 which is a vitamin that is known to help nerve recovery and oftentimes is helpful in the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. Night splints can also be obtained. These can be purchased at a discount store in the first aid section. These splints keep the wrist from bending while we sleep which may keep our hands from falling asleep at night allowing us to have a restful night sleep, which is so important.
If despite these conservative treatments the symptoms seem to worsen and you realize you are dropping things and don’t have the strength in your hand you once had, it may be time to seek medical treatment. There are nerve tests that can be done to help determine if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or if another problem is causing the numbness in your hands. These tests can also help determine the degree of your carpal tunnel. Is it a mild, moderate or severe case? Depending on what the tests reveal, treatment options can be rendered appropriately. If carpal tunnel syndrome is caught in the early stages it can be treated very successfully with surgical intervention and complete resolution can be expected quite readily. Most surgical techniques for carpal tunnel release involve a simple outpatient surgery that takes just minutes and can be done with the patient awake with a local or regional anesthetic. The incisions are usually quite small these days, measuring anywhere from 1/2” to 1” in size. There are several techniques for carpal tunnel surgery and most of them are extremely successful.
In closing, if you are waking up with numb hands and having difficulty with daily activities because of it, try some of the conservative remedies mentioned above. If, indeed, these symptoms do persist or seem to be worsening, give a physician a call. I hope these tips are helpful.
Dr. Gregory C. Sarkisian
Precision Orthopaedic Specialties, Inc.,
Dr. Sarkisian is a partner at Precision Orthopaedic Specialties, Inc and is chief of Orthopedic Surgery at University Hospital Geauga Medical Center.