Are you plagued by the annoying symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)?

CTS causes your thumb, index and long fingers to become numb and tingling. It does not causes numbness in the puffy area of the palm below your thumb (the thenar eminence). You may notice a peculiar sensation of numbness or tingling in the middle part of your ring finger, but notice that sensation in the outside half of your ring finger is normal.

The carpal tunnel is formed by the horseshoe shaped ring of wrist bones (the carpals) being held together at either end by a very thick ligament forming a tunnel through which passes the tendons of the hand and nerves which supply the problem area.

Before you go running off to have carpal tunnel release surgery, let's try some home treatment.

Often, the compression in this area is caused by built up swelling. To relieve the swelling, do a hot-cold contrast. You will fill two bowls: one with water as hot as you can tolerate, the other with water as cold. Only you can decide what these two temperatures are. Don't let someone else determine hot and cold for you. Dip your hand into the hot bowl and keep it there for seven minutes. Plunge it into the cold bowl for a minute. This may be excruciating and sting terribly. One minute in the cold and you are back in the hot for three minutes. Back to the cold now. Go back and forth for three complete cycles and then end on whichever temperature leaves your hand feeling best. Do this treatment twice each day.

Now, let's exercise.

Move your wrist through its full range of motion several times. Do each exercise ten times. Repeat the whole series three times:

Gently bend your wrist forward and back as far as you can comfortably go.

Rest your hand on a flat surface and tilt it side to side as far as you can comfortably go.

Make a soft fist and turn your wrist in a full circle 10 times clockwise, 10 times counterclockwise.

Now, let's do tendon glides. The tendons that work the fingers run like long marionette strings from muscles high in your forearm. By doing these slow and controlled movements, you'll gently slide the tendons up and down in the carpal tunnel relieving some of the pressure on them. As before, do each movement 10 times, then repeat the entire cycle three times.

Bend your fingertips so they touch the top of your palm right below where the fingers begin then straighten them all the way back up.

Bend your fingertips to touch the heel of your hand and then straighten all the way back up.

Hold all your fingers straight and bend your wrist back and forth.

Hold a loose fist and bend your wrist back and forth.

To strengthen your hand, grasp a tennis ball and squeeze. Hold the ball like it is round letting your fingers surround it rather than keeping your fingers together and trying to squeeze the ball flat. Squeeze as hard as you comfortably can and hold it for 10 seconds. Relax. Stretch your fingers out and then repeat the squeeze six times.

If nighttime is the worst time for your symptoms, pick up a simple wrist brace at your pharmacy or department store. The brace will probably have a metal support that you can slip out to make the brace more comfortable for nighttime wear. Adjust the brace so that it is slightly loose. Our hands swell at night so what is comfortable when you go to bed may be snug enough to wake you later. The brace is not to immobilize your wrist, but rather to keep you from curling your hands up into the fetal position while you sleep.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often misdiagnosed. Your symptoms may be caused by problems in your neck, shoulder or arm. Ask your doctor for a referral to your physical therapist, who will determine the cause of the problem and design a treatment for your specific needs.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Jackie Randa is a physical therapist who owns Back on Track in Barstow. She can be contacted at jranda@aol.com