Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel | Great Health Guide
Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel

Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel

Written by Margarita Gurevich & Justin Balbir

Physiotherapists see many patients with wrist pain and Carpal Tunnel. Given that wrist pain is such a prevalent problem, let’s review some common causes and more importantly, talk about what treatment options are available.

When it comes to diagnosing the cause of wrist pain, the first step is to determine whether it’s a true wrist problem or whether the pain is ‘masquerading’, i.e. being referred to the wrist from another part of the body. The most common areas which can refer pain to the wrist are the neck, shoulder and elbow. To understand how this can happen we will use the neck as an example. Imagine that you have a bulging disc in your neck. This disc can put pressure on the nerves which supply the wrist and consequently, you will feel wrist pain. Treating the wrist, however, will not result in an improvement as the problem is in the neck, not the wrist. Thus, in this example, it will be necessary to treat the neck, not the wrist, to alleviate the symptoms.

The most common causes of true wrist pain are:

  • Carpal tunnel

  • Wrist fracture

  • Arthritis

  • RSI (repetitive strain injury)

  • Tendinitis

There are also other, more serious, causes of wrist pain. It is important to see your doctor first to be cleared of these. Once you have been cleared, treatment by a physiotherapist should be your next point of call.

So, what treatment is available for wrist pain sufferers? In physiotherapy practice there is a wide range of treatment options which includes electrotherapy, ultrasound, drug phoresies and exercises. To decide which treatment will be most beneficial for each patient, it is important to carry out a detailed assessment first. This assessment will include an analysis of wrist range of motion and strength, as well as some specific tests which help to diagnose the cause of the symptoms. Specific investigations, such as diagnostic ultrasound and X-Rays, can also be helpful in certain cases, particularly if there is a suspected fracture.

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We will now review some of the abovementioned causes of wrist pain and specifically discuss which treatments can be helpful for these. In this month’s article, we will discuss carpal tunnel syndrome. In the following March issue of GHGTM, our article will focus on osteoarthritis and RSI.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This disorder of the hand arises because of pressure on the median nerve as it runs through the carpal tunnel of the wrist. It typically occurs when there is swelling inside the wrist. Swelling can occur because of repetitive tasks performed with the hand, arthritis and pregnancy. Traumatic injury can also be a cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Common symptoms include numbness, pins and needles and pain. Weakness may also be felt in the hands and cramping of muscles is not uncommon. This is due to a compromised nerve supply to the affected muscles.

Physiotherapy treatment will involve several components:

  • Education: regarding which activities and positions may be most provocative and best to avoid.

  • Hands on therapy: where indicated, wrist mobilization and passive stretching may be useful, while massage can help ease the surrounding muscle tension.

  • Exercises: nerve and tendon gliding, as well as muscle stretching may be prescribed, with strengthening and fine motor skills being a focus in the later stages of rehabilitation.

  • Ultrasound: this has been shown to reduce inflammation and assist with easing of symptoms.

When it comes to wrist pain and carpal tunnel choose not to just live with the pain but seek professional advice to deal with the symptoms and the cause.

Author of this article:
Margarita Gurevich is Senior Physiotherapist and uses Clinical Pilates, SCENAR Therapy & other evidence-based techniques, including Real Time Ultrasound and McKenzie Treatment. Margarita specialises in sports injuries, women’s health (including incontinence) and gastrointestinal issues. Margarita may be contacted via her website. 

Justin Balbir has a Bachelor of Health Sciences & Masters of Physiotherapy Practice. He has worked for five years as a sports trainer for the Ajax Football Club, with experience in soft-tissue massage & injury management. Justine specializes in manual therapy & sports injuries and may be contacted via website.

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