For most of us — and probably all of us — our hands play a central role in our lives, making light work of a multitude of varying tasks throughout the day. When one or both hands are injured, we need to do something — fast — to restore function, strength, and mobility. Some injuries — specifically, those associated with traumas like falls or accidents — happen quickly and without warning, and typically, there’s nothing we can do to prevent them. When injuries are severe, we might need surgery. But other injuries occur as a result of repetitive use and stress to the bones, joints, and connective tissues. And if we’re lucky and take action at the first sign of symptoms, we can often avoid surgery, prevent the problem from becoming worse, and often reverse the damage that’s occurred.
At Orthocenter, we treat many types of hand injuries, including repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. While surgery is sometimes the best course of action for severe repetitive use injuries, especially when a nerve is seriously compromised, whenever possible, we always try conservative options first. After evaluation, the first step in conservative management is to help patients understand what they can do to minimize their symptoms and heal properly without surgery. If you’re having hand pain, here are some things you can try at home to reduce your symptoms, prevent more serious damage, and hopefully avoid the need for surgery.
Avoid activities that cause pain
Nerve-related hand problems can cause local pain and tenderness as well as pain that radiates into your fingers, your wrist, and even your forearm. Sometimes, the pain feels like a dull ache; other times, it can feel sharp, like a shot of electricity. Pain is often accompanied by symptoms like numbness and “pins-and-needles” tingling, and you might also experience weakness when you try to grasp or hold objects. Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries are caused by movements you do over and over again. Those motions cause inflammation and irritation along the nerve, and the swelling presses on the nerve as well. Since the injury and the symptoms are caused by movements, it makes sense to avoid those movements whenever possible, or at least to reduce them while the area heals.
Use a wrist splint
If you must use your hand for activities that cause discomfort, like using a computer at work, a wrist splint might help by providing additional support for your wrist while also keeping everything in proper alignment. Ideally, you’ll wear your splint throughout the day, not just at work, and even while you sleep to prevent compressing or bending your wrist without realizing it. There are lots of different types of wrist splints, and not all splints are equally effective. The team at Orthocenter can help you select a wrist splint that’s right for your needs.
Try OTC pain medicines
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can be very effective not only at relieving pain, but also in reducing swelling that causes nerve compression. Take medicines as directed on the label or as instructed by your doctor. And if you’re taking other types of medicines, check with your doctor first to make sure it’s OK to take these pain medicines. You can also try ointments designed to relieve muscle-related discomfort.
Apply cold and hot therapies
Using ice on your wrist several times a day can be really helpful in reducing inflammation. Just be sure to apply ice for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and wait an hour or so between applications. You can also soak your hand and wrist in an ice bath following the same instructions. Heat can also help, especially in improving flexibility and reducing stiffness. You can try a heating pad on and off in the same way as you’d apply ice, or you can soak your hand and wrist in warm (not hot) water and gently rotate and flex your wrist while it soaks.
Of course, one of the best ways to prevent your need for hand surgery is to visit us when you first notice symptoms. To schedule your evaluation at the Orthocenter or to find out about the treatments we offer, book an appointment online today.