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Knitting and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Q: A few years ago, I took up knitting and it's become my favorite way to unwind at night. The only trouble is that I've started waking up in the middle of the night with a tingling sensation in the fingers of my left hand. If I shake my hand for a few moments, it usually goes away, but the sleep disturbances are starting to leave me exhausted and they seem to be happening more often. Could this be a sign of something serious?


Dr. Donnica:
It sounds like you may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by swelling and pressure in the narrow semicircle of wrist bones and results in a pinched median nerve in the wrist. This is the bane of computer users. It is a syndrome of hand numbness or tingling, weakness, loss of grip strength, hand pain, and the sense of the hands "falling asleep" upon waking. It may also present with nighttime numbness, as you've had. The pain may even extend from the hands to the forearm, arm, shoulder, back and neck.

While carpal tunnel syndrome is usually a result of repetitive work or even recreational activities, such as knitting, it may also be caused or worsened by conditions such as pregnancy, hypothyroidism, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity. Other possible causes include extensive use of hand tools (particularly vibrating ones), tennis, or any other activities that involve prolonged twisting of the wrist.

To treat this condition, avoid or limit activities that irritate the wrist; apply ice for 15 minutes three times per day; wear a night splint (available at most drug stores); and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. There are a few other things you can do to try to lessen your symptoms. You might try avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco; doing exercises to strengthen the arms and shoulders; and/or increasing your intake of vitamin B6. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. The good news is that if surgery is needed, it can often be performed endoscopically, as an outpatient procedure, with return to full activities a week later.


Created: 8/8/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.


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