I have a lot of respect for medical professionals, but it’s hard not to cringe when I see a doctor’s advice for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome published in a major paper like this: “Simply resting the wrist can lessen tunnel inflammation and let the nerve recover. That can be accomplished by wearing a wrist splint, obtainable in most drugstores. Some people get relief by wearing it only at night. Anti-inflammatory medicines — ibuprofen being an example — can also alleviate inflammation and nerve compression. If these measures fail, the doctor can inject cortisone, which almost always calms inflammation. In only a few instances is surgery necessary to free the nerve from whatever is pressing on it.” — from the Sun Herald
First off, most people who think they have CTS have some other kind of repetitive stress injury that has nothing to do with the carpal tunnel (It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals)
Second, drugs and rest are only a short-term solution. Same with cortisone and even surgery (most people’s problems come back a few months or a year after the surgery–my source is again the excellent RSI book mentioned above). Yeah, the symptoms might get better for a while (how not?), but as soon as you resume your regular activities (if you work 40 hours or more a week at a computer, it’../2005/01/igesture_review.html”>iGesture, install a break reminder program and get up and walk around a couple times an hour (or at least do exercises at your desk), etc. etc. etc. It’s really about changing the way you work, not just taking drugs or wearing a splint. The office ergonomics section at Healthy Computing has lots of information on setting up your workstation.
Third, sometimes the solution is more about correcting a muscle imbalance than simply resting the joints. Something as simple as putting a thick rubber band around the tips of your fingers and thumb and doing exercises where you flex your fingers outward can help build the strength in the muscles opposite those that get used every day from everything to opening a jar to typing. Flextend is a more comprehensive way to exercise those muscles.
Lastly, for a lot of people, pain that manifests itself in the hands or wrist may not even be because of a problem in that area. You might have a trigger point (kind of like a pinched nerve) in your back or shoulder. If you’ve tried exercises and changing your habits and aren’t having much luck (raises hand), check out a book like The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief (this book goes behind hand problem… they cover aches and pains in every part of the body).
Now that I’ve ranted for a page, I’ll end with a reminder that I’m not a medical professional and everything above just comes with the experience of having read about RSI and ergonomics and having dealt with pain issues for the last couple years. Do see a doctor if you’re having trouble, but my advice is to go straight to someone who specializes in repetitive stress injuries. I wasted a lot of money going from a general practitioner to her referral, a doctor who specialized in hand surgeries, to another referral, a physical therapist who got to bill me for multiple weeks without ever solving my problem… I wish I’d started out just spending the $40 on the afore mentioned It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals and The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief.