What do carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, and golfer’s elbow all have in common?
They can all be treated with conservative management under the care of an occupational therapist. Does this mean that surgery can always be avoided? Unfortunately no, but it does significantly reduce the likelihood for surgical intervention and it also promotes education on addressing underlying causes of symptoms to reduce future recurrence. Continue reading to learn about common treatment approaches and modalities utilized to treat these common disorders.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that is associated with pain, decreased strength, numbness and tingling, and limitations with range of motion. CTS is the result of compression of the median nerve as it passes through the sheath in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel. The numbness and tingling that is typically felt affects the thumb, index, middle finger, and at times the ring finger also. Individuals who perform repetitive hand based activities (receptionists, cashiers, hair dressers, etc) tend to be more at risk for CTS. Women who are pregnant may also experience CTS symptoms secondary to hormonal changes that cause swelling.
Occupational therapy can assist to address and mediate symptoms by evaluating a patients current level of function, determine contributing factors to symptoms such as sleep position, job requirements, and potential nerve involvement other than at the carpal tunnel. Modalities and/or treatment approaches typically used include resting and stretching, custom splints for temporary immobilization and/or support, infrared light therapy (Anodyne), electrical stimulation, ultrasound, Kinesio Taping, gentle strengthening, body mechanics and work retraining, nutritional modifications, and soft tissue mobilization.
Tennis/golfer’s elbow, technically known as lateral or medial epicondylitis are conditions associated with the elbow, specifically the attachment sites for the extensor and flexor muscles of the wrist. Similar to CTS, these disorders are often caused by overuse or repetitive tasks. Symptoms typically include pain, stiffness, weakness, and numbness/tingling in the elbow and/or forearm. Commonly an individual will purchase an elbow wrap or brace and although these prefabricated braces may offer temporary relief from symptoms, they are not addressing or correcting the underlying issues.
An occupational therapist can utilize the aforementioned treatment approaches and modalities associated with CTS for the tennis/golfer’s elbow to allow a person to reduce symptoms and return to normal functioning. An example of a typical plan of care following evaluation would include providing the patient