Hand numbness or tingling? Don’t ignore it.
It might start with some tingling or numbness in your fingers when you’re driving or blow drying your hair. You shake out your hand and it gets better. What causes this hand numbness or tingling in your fingers? Should you be concerned?
Hand surgeon Gregory Faucher, MD, said carpal tunnel syndrome, or a pinched nerve in the wrist, is the most common cause. He explained what to do if you start noticing numbness, tingling or burning in your fingers.
Can you treat hand numbness at home?
“The first-line treatment is a brace,” Dr. Faucher said, “a Velcro wrist splint that you can find at any pharmacy. Wear it at nighttime to immobilize the wrist and prevent it from flexing or extending.”
The brace keeps your wrist in a neutral position, which gives your median nerve the most space in the carpal tunnel. In addition to the median nerve, the carpal tunnel includes other tendons. If any of those tendons get inflamed or swollen, they press on the nerve.
“The reason it helps to wear a brace at night is that we often sleep with our wrists flexed or extended under a pillow or under our head or chin, and we’re putting that nerve in a compromised position all night while we sleep, not allowing it to recover from whatever we had done during the day,” Dr. Faucher said. “So nighttime splinting for about six weeks is what I often have patients do the first time I see them.”
What activity causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Anything that involves repetitive activity can cause inflammation in the tendons within the carpal tunnel, such as working on a computer or using machinery that causes vibration. “The most classic one is a jackhammer, but it can be as benign as a hairdryer,” Dr. Faucher said. “The nerves do not respond well to vibration – they can become thick.”
When is it time to see a doctor?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can progress from a relatively mild state to one that puts the nerve at risk permanently. The biggest warning sign is if your numbness does not go away and your grip feels weak. This could be a sign the nerve is starting to die. “Once you get to that point, the results, even with surgery, are unpredictable and sometimes there’s incomplete relief,” Dr. Faucher said.
Also a loss of the bulk of the muscle at the base of your thumb can be an indicator that you’re progressing into a more severe phase of carpal tunnel syndrome.
How can you prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?
“There’s not a whole lot from a stretching standpoint that can really prevent carpal tunnel syndrome,” Dr. Faucher said.
Instead, he recommended activity modification. If you start to notice numbness or tingling, take a break. Wearing a brace at night and while you’re doing the triggering activity can also help support and protect the nerve.
Another risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome is weight gain, so maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent the condition.
Bottom line: If you’re having symptoms, don’t wait to be seen.
“If someone has had numbness for years and there’s potentially permanent nerve damage, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that we can do for it,” Dr. Faucher said. “Get checked out as soon as possible so that we can still have options available for treatment.”
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