Wrist Braces for Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a fairly common condition, especially in the elderly. It causes pain and other symptoms in the hand which usually becomes worse over time if the condition is left untreated. However, if diagnosed and treated early, the progress of condition can be slowed down or even healed. A part of the treatment process can be wrist braces for carpal tunnel.
A wrist brace is one of the basic treatments recommended for mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome and is usually effective. However, when you want to buy a wrist brace you will be faced with a confusing variety of different types.
In this article we have a brief look at what carpal tunnel syndrome is and the treatments. We then provide an outline of the different types of wrist braces to help you decide which one is right for you.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers pass through a passageway in the wrist, commonly known as the carpal tunnel. This tunnel is surrounded by small wrist bones on three sides and is covered by a strong and thick ligament on the inside of the wrist. The median nerve is responsible for feeling in all the fingers, except the pinky, and also for nerve supply to the muscles surrounding the thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed. One of the causes is that the carpal tunnel is too small, and this often runs in families. However, the most common cause of pressure on the nerve is swelling and inflammation of the tendons.
The tendons can become injured and inflamed when the wrist is bent excessively, either forwards or backwards, over an extended period. This can happen while sleeping, holding a book when reading, typing, or gripping from long-distance driving. Another common cause is repetitive hand and wrist motions over a long time usually at work or while playing a sport, like tennis.
A previous wrist injury can be a contributory factor and some chronic conditions appear to be risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. These include obesity, diabetes, arthritis and an underactive thyroid.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The main symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are a burning pain, tingling, or a numb feeling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers, or a sensation like a shock running through them. The pain can also travel into the arm and up towards the shoulder.
Most people experience their first symptoms during the night when the numbness or pain wakes them up – many of us tend to sleep with our wrists curled up. Daytime symptoms are initially felt when you are busy with an activity that involves the wrist. Symptoms usually start gradually but eventually become more frequent and last longer, until they become almost constant.
As carpal tunnel syndrome progresses, you can lose feeling in your fingertips and have difficulty with hand movements that require grip and pinching, such as writing and doing up buttons. Your hand becomes increasingly weaker as nerve supply deteriorates and the muscles at the base of the thumb waste away. You may find yourself dropping objects and being unable to perform a number of tasks.
From the above it becomes clear why the condition should be diagnosed and treated early. There are other conditions that can cause pain and loss of movement in the hands, so it is important to visit a medical practitioner for a correct diagnosis. If necessary, they can also order various investigations to determine the extent of the problem and whether any permanent damage to the median nerve and the muscles has already set in.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Non-surgical treatment for mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome can usually slow down the condition’s progress or even cure it. The earlier you start treatment the better.
The purpose of these interventions is to relieve the pressure on the median nerve by reducing the inflammation and swelling in the carpal tunnel. Your medical practitioner will probably recommend the following simple basic treatments:
- Addressing the work or leisure activities which are at the root of the problem. This may require either stopping the activity for a while or modifying how you perform the activity.
- Wearing a splint or wrist brace to promote healing by limiting movement and supporting the wrist.
- Anti-inflammatory medication that can be in the form of tablets or even a cortisone injection into the wrist if the pain is severe.
Some sufferers have reported relief from natural treatments:
- Regular application of cold or heat
- Yoga or other exercises which strengthen the wrist joint
- Massage, including with oils which have anti-inflammatory properties such as Arnica or CBD oil
- Ultrasound stimulation
- Weight loss
In some cases, surgery might be the only option, such as when the basic treatments fail to provide relief, the condition is severe and already leading to loss of function, or when the actual structure of the tunnel is causing the problem.
Selecting a Wrist Brace for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As mentioned above, a wrist brace is one of the basic treatments for mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. The aims are to reduce the movements that trigger symptoms, support the joint and stabilize the wrist in a position that will promote healing.
Wrist braces are available at drug stores, sports shops and medical supply companies. They can also be ordered online. Your medical practitioner might advise a specific type of brace but, if not, the many different types and styles will probably leave you confused.
Your choice will depend on the severity of your condition, how much support and compression you need, and your lifestyle. You may need to wear it all the time, only while you sleep and/or while engaged in activities that trigger your symptoms. Wrist braces can be divided into four main categories.
This brace offers the most support and comes with a splint made of either plastic or metal. The splint can be fixed, but some are removable to allow for a wider range of motion while still providing some support.
This brace does not have a splint but is made of stiff material so that it is fairly rigid and limits wrist mobility. It has Velcro or other fastening systems to adjust the size and the amount of compression required.
Medical practitioners most often recommend using a wrist brace while sleeping, as this when most people experience symptoms. Wrist braces designed for sleep usually extend further up the arm and cover most of the palm to provide a high degree of immobility. However, they are also designed for extra comfort and often come with added cushioning.
While the above braces cover part of the arm and hand, with a thumbhole to keep it in place, this brace is like a bracelet and supports only the wrist. Your hands and fingers maintain a full range of motion which makes this brace ideal when you need lightweight support while engaged in activities like typing.
You may even decide to get more than one type of wrist brace. For example, one for sleeping and one for use with daytime activities. Once you have decided which type would be the best for you there are some further points to consider.
What to Keep in Mind With Carpal Tunnel Braces
Some wrist braces come designed for the left or right hand, while others can be used on either hand. Also, some designs are sold in different sizes. Where there is a style that is one-size-fits-all, you will definitely need to try them on if your wrists are much smaller or larger than average.
One of the most important things to remember is that a wrist brace must fit comfortably – if it is uncomfortable you may find yourself wearing it less and less often. Furthermore, if it is too loose it will not provide the needed support and if it is too tight it might put additional pressure on the carpal tunnel.
A wrist brace is subjected to considerable wear and washing, so you need to consider the materials it is made from. The pricier braces are usually made from materials that are more durable, lightweight and cooler.
While some people report almost immediate relief from a wrist brace you should use one for at least three to four weeks before you decide whether it is working for you or not. You also might need to try out more than one type.
Early Intervention Can Make a Difference
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition among the elderly and it is important not to write the symptoms off as just more of the aches and pains that come with aging. In most cases, early treatment, including using a wrist brace, can prevent more severe consequences.
A wrist brace does not necessarily work for everyone, but most users report significant improvement. We have provided some guidelines on how to choose the best wrist brace for your own situation but you also need to do your own research. Get the opinions of others, read reviews and try the product on before you commit to your purchase.