A carpal tunnel splint is a medical brace designed for use by individuals suffering from the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. It generally straps around the wrist and hand; and inhibits flexing of the joint, keeping the wrist in a relaxed position. In most cases, a carpal tunnel splint is worn exclusively at night, but may be used during activities that are known to exacerbate the condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome itself is caused by the compression of the median nerve in the wrist, one of several nerves that run vertically down the arm. Damage to this nerve can lead to numbness, tingling, and pain in the forearm and hand. It is a progressive condition and is often caused by repetitive activities, such as typing, where weight is put on the wrist and causes it to compress. As the carpal tunnel, which is a sheath of tissue running down the forearm, is squeezed, the median nerve is pinched. This nerve communicates sensations from the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers — and damage to it causes pain and loss of feeling, as well as a weakened grip.
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The treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. Use of a carpal tunnel splint is a more conservative approach, and is generally prescribed early on, after initial diagnosis. Often the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and cooling packs is suggested in conjunction with the splint, to minimize swelling and give the soft tissues a chance to heal. Only after symptoms have continued for six months or longer is more invasive treatment, such as surgery, recommended.
A carpal tunnel splint is generally made of nylon and foam, with rigid plastic inserts that prevent flexing or rotation. It typically features plastic or Velcro® straps for closure, which allow the splint to be secured tightly and is essential for limiting motion. Even properly tightened, however, a good carpal tunnel splint allows full articulation of the fingers, and does not detract from most routine activities.
As a conservative treatment option, a carpal tunnel splint does not offer immediate relief of carpal tunnel symptoms. Rather, it is intended to work with drugs and physical therapy to reduce pain and help the soft tissues of forearm to heal gradually. For the majority of people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, this conservative approach is enough to eliminate pain and ensure no lasting symptoms. Only a minority of patients require surgery.