Carpal Tunnel syndrome is a common affliction where pressure on the median nerve causes tingling, numbness, and pain. The condition is caused by various factors such as genetics and lifestyle. Splints are commonly prescribed for temporary treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome but they should be used with caution.
The key to treating carpal tunnel syndrome is to diagnose it early. The most common symptoms include numbness and tingling in the fingers, hand, and wrist, weakness in your hand, and pain when holding items or performing normal tasks.
What is a Wrist Splint?
A wrist splint, also known as a wrist brace, is used to hold the wrist in a neutral position. Oftentimes, splints are only worn at night because that is when most patients will complain of worse symptoms.
It is important to keep the wrist in a neutral position because it will decrease the pressure on the median nerve. Flexing and extending the wrist is what puts pressure on the nerve canal. This is why repeat tasks and the way we sleep can agitate the condition; too much movement creates more pressure.
Wearing the brace at night is effective because it keeps the wrist from bending which puts more pressure on the median nerve. A study performed in 2012 found that wearing a brace at night allowed patients to sleep better and wake less than if they used no treatment at all.
Where Can I Get a Wrist Splint?
Wrist splints are available at any drug store and even online. Wrist splints vary but at the end of the day you want to make sure you are comfortable. If your splint is too loose, it will not keep your wrist in the proper neutral position. If it is too tight, you may end up putting more pressure on your wrist and cause more damage.
If you are going to physical therapy or seeing an orthopedist, they may prescribe you a wrist splint or create a custom orthotic to provide the most comfort and best support. Custom splints are not necessary, but they may be beneficial in more severe cases of carpal tunnel.
When Are Wrist Splints Considered?
If you are diagnosed with mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will most likely recommend a wrist splint to manage your symptoms. While studies have shown the splint can improve symptoms over the course of a few weeks, the effects are not permanent.
Wrist splints can also weaken the muscle and joints if not properly utilized. They should not be worn 24/7 and when they are not being worn, it is important to exercise and stretch. Your doctor or physical therapist can provide numerous stretches and exercises to help keep the muscles strong and prevent stiff joints.
During the day, you should avoid wearing your splint. If you really need the extra support, a wrap bandage can do the job. You should still consult your physician before utilizing the bandage to prevent inflicting more damage.
What to Know About Wrist Splints?
Wrist Splints are not a permanent cure for carpal tunnel. In fact, prolonged use may actually lead to weakened muscles. Following the use of a splint, you should exercise your wrists and slowly add weight to strengthen the muscles without doing more damage.
Wearing a splint also does not mean you can increase your activity immediately. Doing so may lead to a strain on the muscles and put more pressure on the median nerve.
A wrist splint is not a cure, so you should do your best to alter your lifestyle and routine to prevent more strain on your wrists. You should avoid wearing your splint while working because you may put more strain on the tendons in the hand.
Those who work desk jobs may look into ergonomic keyboards designed to reduce pressure on the wrists. However, there is little research to back up whether or not these actually alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms.
Dr. Brutus recommends wrist splints are worn for a maximum of four to six weeks and at night only. If symptoms persist or worsen during this time, you may need to consider surgery in order to prevent permanent nerve damage.
What Can Agitate Carpal Tunnel?
As you go about your day, you may find your carpal tunnel symptoms worsening. There are a few changes you can make to your daily routine to help alleviate symptoms in addition to a wrist splint:
- Keep your wrist in a neutral position as much as possible
- Keep your hands warm- cold can lead to stiffness in the joint
- Try to let your hand and wrists rest as much as possible
- Avoid repeat motions as much as you can
- Use a lighter grip on tools and keyboards to reduce tension
- Avoid using tools that vibrate such as electric saws and drills. If you cannot avoid these tools, anti vibration gloves are a viable option.
Identifying what triggers carpal tunnel flare ups is key to treating your symptoms. Giving your wrist “micro-breaks” can go a long way to relieving pressure on the median nerve.
Wrist Splints: Final Thoughts
Surgery is the only way to permanently cure carpal tunnel syndrome. This is why early diagnosis is key to preventing irreversible damage. Wrist splints can be effective to temporarily relieve carpal tunnel symptoms, but their effects are not permanent.
Patients may find prolonged results when combined with proper exercise and changes to their lifestyle. If you find your symptoms have worsened or not improved after a few weeks, seek guidance from your physician.