If you suffer from carpal tunnel symptoms, your health care provider may suggest a brace be worn at night or other times. The brace is used to put your wrist in a neutral position to help reduce the symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling that result from irritation of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel area.
Carpal tunnel overview
The median nerve, along with ligaments and tendons pass through a narrow space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. Once the nerve is irritated in these close quarters you will begin to experience symptoms such as numbness of the hand or certain fingers, pain, tingling or "pins and needles" and eventually a reduction in strength in the hand.
Sometimes it can become difficult to pick up a coffee cup or grasp a pen. When the nerve passing through the carpal tunnel is irritated, you may experience hand numbness that is severe enough to awaken you at night.
The jury is out on the exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome because it varies from one person to the next. Some causes include a congenitally small carpal tunnel, swelling in the wrist area following injury, fluid retention especially during pregnancy, repetitive wrist motion or cocking the wrist at an uncomfortable angle.
Some medical conditions including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis or changes in weight may also bring on symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome can run in families and it can also result from unidentified triggers.
Carpal tunnel symptoms can wax and wane; more than one third of suffers find that their symptoms disappear, only to reappear again at a later date. If you have bilateral carpal tunnel--or symptoms in both wrists--you are more likely to experience ongoing problems.
Almost 50 percent of pregnant women experience symptoms that usually resolve after giving birth. Often treatment is not required, but if the symptoms reappear or worsen, it can indicate a more severe damage to the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel. There are steps you can take to manage your condition.
Wrist Splints or Braces
There are two categories of carpal tunnel splints or braces. If you are working with a health care professional, he may order custom splints for you. Often the splints are fabricated by physical or occupational therapists. The benefit of the custom splint is that it is made to fit your hand and wrist precisely.
The splint is usually made of a hard, durable material and fastens to the hand and wrist using Velcro straps. Once a custom splint is fabricated, it can be further modified should there be areas of discomfort. Custom braces may wear better due to the type of construction, but they are usually of rigid construction. If you need a brace that allows more wrist mobility, be sure to discuss this with the therapist before the brace is made.
Your health insurance may cover the cost of the splint or brace if it is required for your treatment or therapy. Check with your health insurance provider prior to fitting the brace to determine what your out-of-pocket expenses will be, Cost could be a factor in your choice of brace.
The second type of brace or wrist splint can be purchased over the counter. Some brand names include Ace, Futuro, Ossur, OTC, Rolyan, Sportaid, IMAK and Prolite to name a few. These braces come in set sizes, so it's best to shop at a retailer who will allow you to try on the brace prior to purchase. This is the best way to find a brand that provides a good fit and determine which brace is most comfortable for you.
For daily use when you are at work, some prefer a soft wrist brace because it is comfortable and allows for more flexion of the wrist. For nighttime use, it may be best to choose a rigid brace or splint that aligns your wrist in a neutral position. This helps reduce irritation and inflammation of the median nerve.
The best splint or brace is the one you wear consistently because it is comfortable and it successfully reduces your symptoms. You may need to try more than one type of brace to find the one best for you.
- FamilyDoctor.org: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- PubMed: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Can It Be a Work-Related Condition?
- PubMed: Multiperspective Follow-Up of Untreated Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Multicenter Study
- PubMed: Multicenter Study on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Pregnancy Incidence and Natural Course
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet