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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How will carpal tunnel syndrome affect my daily life?

    After noticing pain and numbness in my hands for quite some time, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. How will this affect my life and the hobbies I have enjoyed? Can I still drive?
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  • Erika Lassig

    Occupational Therapist (OT)

    Erika has over 10 years experience practising hand therapy. She has worked in hand and upper limb rehabilitation at a variety of centres including Logan … View Profile

    The good news is that you do not have to put up with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). There are a variety of treatment options that are aimed at reducing compression of the median nerve so that you can get back to what you love or need to do, such as driving.

    If your nerve compression is mild to moderate or has not been troubling you for more than 12 months, then I would suggest you see an occupational therapist or physiotherapist trained in hand therapy. You can find a therapist in your area on the Australian Hand Therapy Association website www.ahta.com.au.

    Hand therapy usually involves the use of a wrist splint, usually only at night while you sleep to prevent the nerve getting squashed in the carpal tunnel from your sleeping position. It is normal for humans to sleep with flexed wrists and fingers which can contribute to the compression of the median nerve in the wrist. Occasionally a splint may help at times during the day as well. Also, gentle nerve and/or tendon gliding exercises may be recommended to prevent further entrapment of the nerve in the carpal tunnel. Education in how to change the way you do things to prevent further irritation of the nerve is also a vital component of therapy. Good posture and avoiding repetitive activities or holding your hand in one position for a long period of time are also important.

    If you have had CTS for more than 12 months and the compression is severe (determined by having a test called a nerve conduction study), then I would suggest asking your GP for a referral to a hand surgeon. Surgery, called carpal tunnel release, involves cutting the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel to allow more room in the tunnel and to release some of the pressure on the nerve. All surgery has risks, however carpal tunnel release does have a high success rate.

    As for driving, you can drive with CTS, however if gripping the steering wheel makes your symptoms worse, I recommend seeking treatment so that you can continue to be safe and comfortable behind the wheel.

    The longer you have CTS, the more damage that is likely to happen to the median nerve and this may reduce the effectiveness of treatment that you may have in the future. Therefore, seeking help sooner rather than later is a good idea.

    I hope you find some relief soon.

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