Occupational Therapy is a Pain in The Hands

Last week, I started occupational therapy – I have carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. I also have a semi-permanent tremor as a side effect of medication that I take. The intersection of hand weakness and hand tremors makes for good times, let me tell you. While surgery can help the carpal tunnel, it can’t help the tremor so I’m trying it now to see if I can live without surgery.

The pain and weakness have left me compensating for my lack of fine motor skills by relying on gross motor movements – I open doors with my shoulder rather than pushing on the handle, I carry laundry in an Ikea bag on my back rather than in a basket, etc. I don’t unload the silverware because I can’t feel the prick of the fork tines or knife edges in my fingertips. Sometimes I do these things anyway and just endure the pain.

I thought hand therapy would have miraculous immediate results. So far, it just results in a lot more limits on my daily activities and a LOT of pain in my hands and wrists. A LOT. I keep reminding myself that pain is part of the healing process, but it hurts. By the end of each day, I can barely hold anything.

You know when it doesn’t hurt? When I’m typing. My hand therapist told me that the reports are keyboarding are a little inaccurate. He told me that the profession that generates the most cases is landscaping – using any sort of tool or appliance that vibrates on a daily basis does the damage. Like weedwackers. Or even hand hairdryers. The repetitive motion plus the vibration does the damage. Keyboarding isn’t great, but he told me that I’ve created my own adaptive techniques such relying more heavily on my ring fingers which are not attached to the carpal nerve. Interesting.

So I can drive just fine because gross motor movements. I can’t easily change the radio station because my fingertips don’t feel or “see” the radio buttons. I hadn’t really thought about that until he asked me and yes, I do tend to just leave it on the same station more often that I typically would.  The list of restrictions is ridiculous. I can no longer open jars, pull the plastic off the tub of cat litter or walk my dog on a leash. I am unable to pull open a sealed plastic bag (like a bag of cereal) and I can’t rip off the top either. I can’t hold a plate to pack up a takeaway container at a restaurant. I can’t push buttons very well.

Hopefully, hand therapy will help soon. Today, I’m making my official at-home rice bucket for exercise; I dig through the rice to pick out the little objects. It seems silly, but it is actually very difficult to do. Tomorrow, I go back for therapy. And hope that it the “it gets worse before it gets better” phase passes soon.

I’m also hopeful someone will prescribe weekly hand massages!

If you’ve used alternative treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, please leave a comment – I’d love to hear how it worked out for you or someone who you know.  This can include before or after surgery.

I’m off to spend twice as long toasting a bagel!

Carpal Tunnel Treatment
My festive rice bucket with assorted trinkets.


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