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Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Joliet, IL (April 4, 2013)—Carpal tunnel syndrome can make life miserable. The compression of a nerve in the wrist can make a movement painful, creating numbness and pain up the arm and into the shoulder.  Even sleep becomes impossible because of the constant pain.

“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.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers. 

“Some carpal tunnel sufferers first notice that their fingers ‘fall asleep’ and become numb at night,” said Shoemaker. “They often wake up with numbness and tingling in their hands.” 

In addition, the feeling of burning pain and numbness may generally run up the center of the person's forearm, sometimes as far as the shoulder. As carpal tunnel syndrome becomes more severe, symptoms are persistent throughout the day. If it is left untreated, it can lead to loss of feeling, strength and coordination.

Women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men. The dominant hand is usually affected first and produces the most severe pain. Persons with diabetes are also at high risk. The risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome is not confined to people in a single industry or job, but is especially common in those performing assembly line work–manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, or fish packing. In fact, carpal tunnel syndrome is three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry personnel. 

Free 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 Monday, April 15 and Tuesday, April 23 on the New Lenox Hospital campus, Pavilion A, 1890 Silver Cross Blvd.  For an appointment, call (815) 300-7110.  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 also referred to a physician on staff at Silver Cross Hospital if further evaluation or treatment is needed.  

“If treated early, carpal tunnel symptoms usually go away with nonsurgical treatment,” said Shoemaker.   

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.

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

About Silver Cross Hospital

Silver Cross Hospital is a not-for-profit health care provider serving Will County and southwest suburban communities since 1895. Silver Cross has been recognized as a Thomson Reuters 100 Top Hospitals National Award winner for seven consecutive years and as a Hospital of Choice by the American Alliance of Healthcare Providers. With over 3,000 employees, physicians and volunteers, Silver Cross operates a 289-bed acute care hospital and 9 satellite facilities providing outpatient services and physician offices. Silver Cross opened a state-of-the-art replacement hospital on February 26, 2012 at I-355 and Route 6 in New Lenox. To learn more about Silver Cross Hospital or a referral to a physician on staff, visit www.silvercross.org or call 1-888-660-HEAL (4325).

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