Do you work with your hands a lot? Studies show that those who work desk jobs or people who work with their hands (particularly in assembly-style work) a lot, such as gardeners and musicians, are more likely to experience a pinched median nerve, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Suffering from a pinched median nerve is not only painful but can actually prevent you from working or participating in activities that involve your hands. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options, though, you can find the right care solution for your pinched nerve.
In this guide, you’ll learn about what causes a pinched median nerve, how to identify one on yourself and different ways to treat a pinched nerve. Keep reading so you can be one step closer to healthy, working hands.
What is a Pinched Median Nerve?
First, it’s helpful to define what exactly is a pinched median nerve. A pinched median nerve is the compression of a nerve by surrounding tissues. The median nerve in particular is located at your wrist. When this nerve is compressed, it can cause pain, weakness, or a numb feeling in your hand and fingers.
Symptoms of a Pinched Median Nerve
If you’re unsure about whether you have a pinched median nerve, educate yourself on some of the symptoms. For those who feel as if they identify with many of the below symptoms, chances are, you have a pinched nerve.
If your hand or wrist feels numb or like you’ve lost all feeling in that part of your hand, you may have a pinched median nerve.
Sharp pain is never a good sign. Experiencing sharp pain, burning, or severe aching are all signs of a pinched median nerve.
Most people are familiar with the feeling of their hand or foot falling asleep. And once you start moving, you might feel a pins and needles sensation. Tingling or experiencing the sensation of your hand falling asleep are additional symptoms of a pinched nerve.
Is the area around your hand or wrist significantly weaker? Is it hard to move those muscles? Muscle weakness in your hand or wrist is a dead ringer for a pinched nerve.
Causes of a Pinched Nerve
Now that you’ve learned about some of the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve, it’s helpful to understand what exactly causes a pinched nerve. If you identify with any of the following behaviors or repetitive movements, you may be at risk for developing a pinched nerve even if you don’t have one now.
Repetitive work, such as working at a computer (typing) or performing the same movements with your hands every day (such as those who garden, play music, or play a sport like baseball), can all cause the compression of your median nerve. That’s why it’s best to take frequent breaks and perform helpful hand and wrist stretches to loosen the muscles in your hand up.
Another common cause of a pinched nerve is injury. Sudden, jerky movements, like those performed during heavy lifting or while throwing a ball, can cause a pinched nerve. Performing a proper warm-up with dynamic stretches helps ensure your muscles are warmed-up and loose, which can go a long way in preventing this type of acute injury.
Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis can also cause a pinched median nerve. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks healthy body tissue, also known as an autoimmune condition. Having arthritis puts you at greater risk of developing a pinched median nerve since these muscles are already under strain.
Wrist arthritis can occur as you get older and is caused by the wearing down of cartilage. Both types of arthritis lead to inflammation, which then causes swelling within your carpal tunnel. This type of swelling is precisely what leads to a compressed nerve.
Being overweight or carrying excess weight increases your risk for conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and other inflammatory diseases. All of these conditions can place more pressure on your nerves, especially if you already work with your hands on a daily basis.
How to Diagnose a Pinched Nerve
If you suspect you have a pinched median nerve and it’s causing significant pain or trouble, be sure to visit a doctor who can provide a diagnosis. Initially, your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and the types of activities and work you’re involved in on a regular basis.
Then, you’ll receive an examination of the affected area, as well as surrounding areas like your neck, arms, shoulders, and chest, to see if a previous injury or condition like arthritis is contributing to your pinched median nerve. Be prepared for a more thorough physical examination of your wrist and hand as the doctor will likely want to check for discoloration, swelling, warmth, or tenderness.
They may also test each of your fingers as well as the muscles in your hand to detect whether you’ve lost feeling or are experiencing a numb sensation. They will also probably test the strength of the muscles in your hand as a pinched median nerve can affect your strength and grip.
Tests and Procedures
Depending on how this physical examination goes, your doctor may want to run a few tests to make sure you don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is where the pinched median nerve gets pressed for an extended period of time. One way a doctor will test for carpal tunnel syndrome is by performing an electromyogram.
An electromyogram measures how efficiently the muscles located around your median nerve work. To perform this test, a doctor will insert a small needle electrode into the muscles in your hand and arm as these are the areas that get impulses from the median nerve. This needle will then emit electric impulses into the muscle as you relax and flex your hand.
During this process, the doctor will be able to tell if your median nerve is damaged or if it’s being compressed.
Ultrasound, X-Ray, and MRI
Another way your doctor will diagnose your pinched median nerve is with an ultrasound. Your doctor may also use an X-ray or MRI to get an inside look at your hand. X-rays can show conditions like arthritis, a broken bone, or simply a swollen, compressed nerve.
Nerve Velocity Test
Finally, another test your doctor may perform is a nerve velocity test. This test works by measuring how fast an electrical signal can move along your median nerve.
The doctor will start by putting a small electrode near your elbow. The electrode will then emit an electrical current down your nerve. Once the current starts moving along your nerve, the doctor will be able to see how much damage is done.
Typically, the longer it takes for the current to make its way from your elbow to your fingers, the greater damage to your nerve.
Treatment Options for a Pinched Nerve
Luckily, there are many ways to treat a pinched median nerve. While your treatment will depend on the severity of the pinched nerve, there are simple things you can do to treat a pinched median nerve.
One of the easiest things you should do is rest. It’s important to rest your hand, wrist, and fingers and to limit movement where possible. So, if you work a desk job that may look like taking a day or two break from typing.
Rest is the only way your pinched nerve can truly heal.
If you’re in a lot of pain and want relief fast, you can always use an anti-inflammatory medication like Advil to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Heat or Ice
Another helpful way to reduce inflammation and relieve pain is to apply a heating pad or an ice pack to the affected area. Just be sure to limit your heat or ice session to about 20 minutes at a time.
The best way to reduce movement is to use a splint. A splint can relieve pain by supporting weak muscles and limiting movement of your elbow, wrist, fingers, and hand.
If your pinched median nerve has progressed to carpal tunnel syndrome or if your pinched nerve is really severe, you may need surgery to release pressure on the nerve. Hand and wrist specialists can perform this type of surgery.
How to Prevent a Pinched Nerve
It’s also helpful to understand how to prevent a pinched nerve from occurring in the first place. While those with jobs that require you to use your hands frequently may find it tricky to prevent repetitive motions altogether, there are still techniques and strategies you can employ to prevent a pinched nerve from happening.
The best thing you can do is to minimize repetitive movement as much as possible. For those whose job demands this, however, it might be helpful to figure out a different way to use your hands and arms when working.
If there’s no way to limit movement or to use your hands and arms in a different way, you may need to change jobs. Your hands and wrists are extremely important for daily functioning, and you don’t want to sacrifice your nerve health for a job.
Another good strategy that may help prevent a pinched median nerve is to change the position of your hand and arms as often as possible. Take breaks, stretch your muscles, and allow your nerves to contract and relax.
For example, if you work a desk job where you’re typing all day, try to take a short break once every hour. Refrain from any sort of typing motion and engage in a relaxing activity like walking or stretching that gives the nerves in your hand and wrists a break.
Monitor Your Sleeping Habits
For those who sleep on their side especially, it can be all too easy to accidentally put excess pressure on your nerves. Make sure you’re not accidentally sleeping on your arm or putting your hand or arm under a lot of pressure at night.
If you wake up with no feeling in your hand and wrist or a pins and needles sensation, that’s a sign that you’ve probably compressed your median nerve at some point in the night. If it’s hard to refrain from doing this when sleeping on your side, try switching to your back instead where your hands and wrist can lay dormant at your sides.
Warm-Up and Stretch
If a sport or physical activity is placing you at greater risk of experiencing a pinched median nerve, try engaging in a dynamic warm-up before you start any activity. For example, for those who play baseball or softball and perform a pitching motion often, be sure to perform dynamic stretches for your hand and wrist before throwing so that the muscles in your hand and arm are nice and warmed up.
Treat Your Pinched Nerve Today!
Hopefully, you now have a good understanding of how to identify a pinched nerve, how it’s caused, and the best ways to treat it. Remember that it’s always best to visit your doctor or a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.
If you suspect you’re suffering from a pinched nerve, book an appointment with a hand and wrist specialist today. For those who live in the Texas area, schedule an appointment with Carpal Tunnel Pros today! Carpal Tunnel Pros are hand and wrist specialists and are highly trained in diagnosing and treating those with a pinched median nerve.
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