As a hand therapist, I am often asked, “Why do my hands fall asleep at night?” Waking up in the middle of the night with tingling or pain in the hands is incredibly common. This question has many answers, but most solutions go back to the nerve. Nerves are like wires in our body that transmit signals from the brain or spinal cord to the tissues of the body and vice-versa. Nerves can control how our muscles work, help maintain the function of our internal organs, and help with sensation. For our nerves to function correctly, they need good nutrition (like the rest of our body). The nutrition for the nerves comes from the blood flow, and good blood flow to the nerve allows the nerve to continue to send a strong signal.
The Role of the Median Nerve in Hand Function and Sensation
One of the primary nerves that supply the muscles and sensation of the hand is called the median nerve. The median nerve controls most of the thumb muscles and provides feeling for the thumb, index finger, long finger, and half of the ring finger. This nerve enters the palm through a tunnel on the front of the wrist called the carpal tunnel. Nine other tendons of the hand run in the carpal tunnel along with the median nerve, and a ligament forms the top of the tunnel.
During sleep, our body naturally moves and often involves bending our wrists. Prolonged wrist bending can slow blood flow to the median nerve, affecting its function. This can lead to the initial symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, such as numbness or tingling in the hand and fingers. Adjusting wrist position or shaking them can help restore normal nerve function. However, symptoms may worsen if wrist bending persists during sleep or due to occupational demands (e.g., desk jobs, medical professions, labor-intensive work). Persistent numbness, tingling, difficulty gripping objects, and decreased hand strength may occur throughout the day.
Early Intervention and Hand Therapy
The best thing you can do is early intervention. A wrist brace can help if your hands fall asleep at night or while working on the computer. If you cannot help your symptoms this way, seeing a certified hand therapist is an excellent next step. Your hand therapist will first try to figure out what is causing your symptoms in the first place. We provide ergonomic suggestions to improve your work position and enhance blood flow to the nerve. Hand therapists employ treatments like massage, ultrasound, heat, and customized exercises to improve blood flow and restore hand function.
Early intervention can successfully treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, providing quick relief. Contact ProActive Physical Therapy today to schedule a FREE assessment and to learn more about our hand therapy services.