A few weeks ago I was referred to a specialist for the treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I first noticed the symptoms in early January, it started happening at night with a partial numbness in the fingers of my left hand. I didn’t think much of it at first as it’s the expected symptom of sleeping in a position that reduces the blood flow. But when it kept happening with my left hand and never happening with my right and then started getting worse (including happening during the day) I sought medical advice.
The doctor asked me to bend my hand down (as if trying to touch my left elbow with the fingers of my left hand). Within about 10 seconds this caused numbness – this result from bending one’s wrist is a major symptom of CTS.
On Thursday I saw a specialist about this, she agreed with the GP’s diagnosis and made a wrist brace for me. She started by cutting off a length of a tube of elastic woven material (similar to a sock) and then cutting a thumb hole, that became the lining. Then to make the hard part she put a sheet of plastic in an electric saucepan (which had water simmering) until it started to melt and then used a spatula to fish it out. The melting temperature of the plastic wasn’t that high (it was soft at about 50C when she put it on my arm), it wasn’t at all sticky when it was partially melted, and it didn’t seem to conduct heat well.
After wearing the wrist brace non-stop for a few days I have noticed an improvement already. Hopefully I will make a full recovery in a matter of a month or so, I will probably have to wear a wrist brace when sleeping for the rest of my life, but that’s no big deal – it’s more comfortable to sleep with a wrist brace than a partially numb hand. I’ve also been prescribed a set of exercises to help remove scar tissue from the nerves. I haven’t done them much yet.
In terms of being annoying, the wrist-brace has 3mm diameter holes in a square grid pattern with a 25mm spacing. This doesn’t let much air through and in warm weather my arm gets sweaty and starts to itch. I’m thinking of drilling some extra holes to alleviate this – the part which makes my arm itch doesn’t need much mechanical strength. The only task which has been really impeded has been making peanut butter sandwiches, maybe it was making sandwiches not typing that caused CTS? ;) In any case I’m not giving up typing but I would consider giving up peanut butter sandwiches.
I really hope to avoid the surgical option, it doesn’t seem pleasant at all.
One final thing to note is that Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is entirely different. RSI is a non-specific pain associated with repetitive tasks while CTS is a specific problem in one or two nerves where they go through the wrist. RSI apparently tends to reduce the effective strength of the afflicted limb, while milder cases of CTS (such as mine) cause no decrease in strength – of course a severe case of CTS results in muscle atrophy due to reduced nerve signals, but I shouldn’t ever get that. Many people think that RSI and CTS are essentially the same thing – I used to think that until a few weeks ago when I read the Wikipedia pages in preparation to seeing a doctor about it.
I want to obtain some of the plastic that was used to make my wrist brace, it could be really handy to have something that convenient for making boxes, containers, and supports for various things – among other things it doesn’t appear to generate static. The low melting temperature will prevent certain computer uses (the hot air that comes out of a cooling system for a high-end CPU would probably melt it), but it could probably be used to make the case for an Opteron system with careful design. I’m guessing that the cost of the plastic is a very small portion of the $150 I paid to the specialist so it shouldn’t be that expensive – and I’m sure it would be even cheaper if it wasn’t bought from a medical supply store. If I ever get time to do some work on an Arduino system or something similar then I will definitely try to get some of this plastic for the case.
Also the Wikipedia page has a picture of what appears to be a mass-produced wrist brace. I think that it might be improved by having the picture of the custom one that I wear added to the page. I unconditionally license the picture for free use by Wikipedia and others under the CC by attribution license. So if anyone thinks that a picture of my hand would improve Wikipedia then they can make the change.