If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you can expect your condition to worsen, plus, cope with more and more pain if your symptoms aren’t treated. It begins as a light tingling sensation, like pins and needles, in the hands and wrists, but the pain can become more persistent. In stage II, the numbness can even strike at night, costing you precious sleep.
Kaw Jon Keen, a senior principal occupational therapist at Mount Elizabeth Rehabilitation Centre, notes that in stage 3, the median nerve and the thenar muscles of the thumb may suffer permanent damage. As a result, patients may experience wasting of the muscles, as well as a severe loss of sensation in their hands.
The best treatment is rest, so don’t panic if you’re experiencing those tingling sensations.
In its early stages, occupational therapy ― which eases patients’ discomfort and prevents permanent damage ― helps mothers cope effectively with carpal tunnel syndrome. Kaw stresses that it’s important to avoid aggravating your symptoms such as by using your fingers to grip too hard, or making forceful or repetitive hand and finger movements. Examples include holding your mobile phone, using a manual breast pump or clinging to the overhead railing on public transport. Kaw shares simple ways to tackle the condition effectively:
Kaw stresses that the best treatment is rest, so don’t panic if you’re experiencing those tingling sensations. She says, “Avoid overusing your hands and wrists when you can and discontinue doing activities if your symptoms become worse.” If the symptoms persist even after rest or if you experience pain, numbness and weakness in your hands, it’s best to get a doctor to evaluate your condition.
2) Modify your activities
The excess pressure you exert on the median nerve running through the small hollow space — called the carpal tunnel — in your wrists causes carpal tunnel syndrome. To prevent further damage, refrain from stressing these joints further and avoid remaining in the same position for long periods of time. Make these simple changes to your daily routine:
• Use an electric breast pump instead of to a manual one;
• Alternate arms when carrying baby or when using baby carriers or strollers;
• Hang your grocery bags from your elbow, which has bigger muscles, as compared to carrying them by hand.
• Use pillows to take some of your baby’s weight off your hands when you feed or cuddle her.
Click to learn easy exercises you can do to reduce your carpal tunnel pain.
3) Do stretching exercises
Do simple stretching exercises that target the hands and arms. Kaw stresses, “Take frequent stretching breaks when you are performing repetitive or strenuous tasks. These include bathing baby, nappy changing or massaging your infant.” AVOID doing squeeze-ball exercises as these could worsen your condition! Try these instead:
• Do shoulder rolls.
• Use one hand to press down on the other hand as you stretch your fingers out for as far as you can for several seconds, then relax.
• Make a fist, then straighten out your fingers. Repeat.
• Move your hands slowly up and down, from side to side, then round in a circle.
Put on a splint to keep your wrist in a neutral position, so that you won’t flex or bend them.
4) Wear a wrist splint
Put on a splint to keep your wrist in a neutral position, so that you won’t flex or bend them. Kaw explains, “A neutral position [of the wrist] allows the carpal tunnel to be slightly wider. It [also] keeps your wrist from curling while you sleep.”
5) Ask your doctor about lymphatic drainage
As the body’s lymphatic system filters fluids that flow through body, it also traps bacteria, viruses and foreign substances. You’re at higher risk of fluid retention and swelling when you’re pregnant, both of which contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome in mums-to-be. So, consider lymphatic drainage, where the skin is stretched in the direction of the lymph flow, Kaw explains. This will relieve fluid retention and swelling and take the pressure off the median nerve.
Kaw Jon Keen is a senior principal occupational therapist at Mount Elizabeth Rehabilitation Centre.
Infographic Paulyn Ng