Repeating a similar motion many times a day or even holding a specific posture for extended periods of time can put excessive strain on areas of the body, resulting in overuse injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is often caused by overuse and is one of the most common sources of hand pain and numbness.
Luckily, you don’t have to stop working out or going to your favorite fitness classes if you’re suffering from this common injury. When you know your symptoms and how to predict and manage them and make time to speak with a health professional, you can feel confident continuing to train through your CTS.
Know the symptoms of CTS
CTS occurs when the tissues surrounding the flexor tendons in the wrist swell and put pressure on the median nerve. Over time, the increased pressure from the tissue causes the carpal tunnel to narrow, leading to swelling of the median nerve and reduced blood flow.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), CTS usually does not develop from one specific injury, so the symptoms associated are gradual. Patients with CTS report feeling pain, numbness or tingling in the hand as well as nighttime symptoms of pain or numbness that can wake the patient.
Swelling or tightening of the hand, hand weakness and difficulties holding onto objects are also common symptoms. Typically, they affect patients most in the thumb, forefinger and middle finger but can radiate up the forearm. For those who strength-train as a part of normal exercise, CTS can drastically affect strength and power, which is why it’s important to speak with your primary care doctor or an orthopaedic specialist.
Seek medical attention before continuing to train
As soon as you start to develop symptoms of CTS, seek medical attention. Even if symptoms are intermittent at first, they will likely get worse over time, and if left untreated while still training, you could need invasive surgery or develop permanent hand damage.
There are other conditions that have similar symptoms to CTS, including arthritis and nerve disorders, so a doctor will need to rule those out. An orthopaedic hand surgeon may use electrical testing (electrophysiological) to help confirm diagnosis and development a treatment plan specific to your case.
The initial conservative treatment options may hold you back in your normal workout routine, which could include splinting and immobilizing the wrist while using anti-inflammatory or steroid medications to reduce swelling.
Focus on what you can do
After you’ve been diagnosed with CTS, you may be cleared to continue training but only with a supportive brace. The supportive device can usually be obtained from your healthcare provider or Amazon.
If you’re cleared to lift, it’s good to anticipate the symptoms you may feel later. A great way to reduce that post-workout pain is to stretch both wrists and all fingers before and after lifting weights. Proper technique is also critical in preventing excessive pressure placed upon the median nerve, which can make your CTS symptoms much worse. Ice the area after lifting it if becomes painful or swollen.
If you aren’t cleared to lift, look for classes that focus on lower body or cardio, to avoid using your wrist at all, or change your program to implement similar changes. A few weeks of lower or full-body training may be just what you need to reduce your CTS symptoms.
Eat the right foods
A well-balanced diet is not only important for improved performance, it can also help to reduce symptoms of CTS, potentially allowing you to train more with fewer symptoms. Inflammation is our body’s biological response to self-protection and beginning the healing process. According to Everyday Health, there are six antioxidant-rich foods that help reduce inflammation, therefore improving your pesky CTS symptoms:
- Red bell peppers (or any colorful produce)
In addition to these foods, you may want to focus on B-complex vitamins, specifically B2, B6 and B12. These are commonly used to treat CTS because of the role they play in maintaining the nervous system. Deficiencies of B-complex vitamins can cause numbness and tingling in the extremities, worsening your current symptoms of numbness and tingling.
Spinach, chicken, oranges, cantaloupe, cauliflower and bananas provide a rich supply of B6. Livestrong warns, “You should always discuss vitamin B supplementation with your physician because taking more than 200mg of B6 a day can cause nerve damage, which is reversible upon stopping.”
While there are no proven methods of preventing CTS, there are steps you can take to reduce pain and manage symptoms while maintaining your current training schedule. Focus on full-body movements and cardio classes, get the go-ahead from your doc, and consider what changes you can make in your diet to help reduce pain and swelling pre- and post-workout.