• In her own words: living with carpal tunnel syndrome

    Holly, age 42, lives in Southern California and is the mother of two children. A few years ago, she began to have tingling and pain in her right arm. The pain got progressively worse, and she ended up needing surgery. She works as a secretary at the police department in her city. She is actively involved in the Police Association and organizes the police department's employee picnic every year.
    What was the first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
    It began as pain on my right side, mostly in my arm. But it progressed from my wrist, to my elbow, up my shoulders, and into my neck. My fingers tingled and felt numb. I would feel okay at the start of the day, but by later in the day, it felt terrible!
    Before I had surgery, it would hurt all the time.
    What was the diagnosis experience like?
    As soon as my fingers started tingling, I went to the doctor. He performed a nerve-conduction test. They put pins in my arm and sent an electrical impulse through my arm. They can determine the amount of blockage by how you react to the shock. After my test, the doctor said I had carpal tunnel.
    What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
    At first, I almost felt relieved. I actually did have something wrong with me—it wasn't just in my head. And because I had a diagnosis, they could do something about it and I wouldn't have to live with the pain.
    But I have to admit, after that, then came the feelings of depression. I knew this was going to require major medical intervention and I wasn't sure I was ready to deal with that.
    How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?
    First, they tried physical therapy and exercise. I also had medications—anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. I did hot and cold treatments. I had a brace to wear at work. None of this helped, so my doctor recommended surgery.
    In my upper palm, I had a muscle band that was pushing down and constricting blood vessels. During surgery, the doctor severed the band so that it wouldn't press on the blood vessels.
    Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to carpal tunnel syndrome?
    Not really. Except I really had to learn to pace myself. If I tried to do too much at once the pain would get unbearable. So I learned to just do a little at a time. And also, to recognize when the pain was starting to kick in and to stop and rest.
    Did you seek any type of emotional support?
    Not through any type of support group. But my husband was great; he pitched in and helped out around the house. My two children were very good about understanding when mommy was in too much pain to do things.
    Does carpal tunnel syndrome have an impact on your family?
    When I was diagnosed, I could not go back to work for a year. This was very hard on me and it affected my family. And when I was first dealing with my diagnosis, and felt really depressed, this affected them too. But now, I am back at work and things feel back to normal.
    What advice would you give to anyone living with carpal tunnel syndrome?
    Most importantly, get several opinions from several different doctors. And be aware of your condition, take the time you need to feel better. And pace yourself when you have a lot to do.
    Although this hasn't been proven, I am sure that for me, resting the phone between my ear and my shoulder made my condition worse. My advice is to not do this!
    Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
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