First off, what is carpal tunnel syndrome? Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there’s pressure on your median nerve – which is found on the thumb side of your wrist when the palm is turned up. This nerve gives you feeling in your thumb and all your fingers except for your pinky. When the median nerve goes through your wrist, it passes through the carpal tunnel — a narrow path that’s made of bone and ligament.
If there’s swelling in your wrist, that tunnel is squeezed and it pinches your median nerve, which causes your symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in people who use their hands, fingers and wrists for work – such as manual labor, lots of typing, or more intricate work with your hands/fingers. Also, it can show up on older active people who play racquet sports, club sports, or lift weights.
However, this is NOT a reason to avoid these activities, especially strength training – as it is arguably the most important form of exercise as we age.
If you feel like you are dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, the first step is to get an assessment from a medical professional such as a sports med doctor, physical therapist, or an occupational therapist whom specializes in hands/wrists.
Thankfully, there are also several things you can do to proactively avoid getting carpal tunnel syndrome, or help with more minor cases.
First, assess when it seems to hurt the most. You will want to ease back on these types of activities until symptoms subside for a week. Now, if your job requires you to use your hands, taking time away is probably not an option.
You will want to avoid awkward bending or too much movement at the wrist, and this is where a proper fitting wrist brace, such as the Mueller Fitted Wrist Brace, will really come in handy.
Here are some other times when wearing the brace will help: when you are sleeping (we often fall asleep with joints locked in odd positions), while driving your car – as the wrist might naturally fall into a painful position, and when doing any specific activities that might involve more hand usage.
You will want to make sure that the brace is not on too tight as this can put more pressure on your carpal tunnel, thus pinching the nerve even more.
Second, make adjustments to your workouts. You can, and should, still exercise but ease back on any heavy gripping exercises for a week or so. This would include rowing, pull ups, deadlifts, and exercises that demand a more intense grip or have you holding weights for longer durations (such as higher repetition sets).
You can still do many exercises, but may have to get creative with where and how you hold the weights. Working with a certified personal trainer who specializes in orthopedic training would be ideal.
You may also consider using over the counter NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen or Aspirin to help with the symptoms. Always consult your doctor before taking any medications.
As a dietitian, I would be remiss if I did not mention your diet. Avoiding highly inflammatory foods such as processed sugars, pro-inflammatory fats (the kinds found in fried foods and chips), and alcohol will help limit your inflammation. Eating more anti-inflammatory foods, such as berries, walnuts, fatty fish, vegetables and drinking more, and mostly, water may also provide benefits.
Lastly, if you live in a cold climate or it’s winter, try keeping your hands as warm as possible. Cold temperatures can constrict nerve pathways and make the pain even worse.
If you find out that you have carpal tunnel syndrome or feel like you might, don’t panic, not all hope is lost for the things you love doing. Follow these steps, get yourself a proper brace, and life should be back to normal in no time.