July 24, 2020 | by M. Alexander Lapp OTR/L, CHT

Is the hand numbness I experience while kiteboarding carpal tunnel syndrome?

It is not uncommon to experience diminished sensation in our hands and feet when kiteboarding. In the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound water temperatures range from 7-13C/45-55 F and can cause blood vessels in our extremities to constrict in our body’s effort to preserve the temperature of our core and vital organs.

Persistent hand numbness, pain, or weakness, can indicate an underlying medical condition. A common cause of these symptoms is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Carpal tunnel syndrome affects 3% of the population¹. It is caused by compression of the median nerve as it travels through a “tunnel” comprised of the wrist bones.

The tunnel is shared by nine tendons that bend the fingers and thumb. Often these tendons become inflamed resulting in too much pressure in the tunnel and compressing the nerve. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is often associated with computer use, the link between keyboarding and carpal tunnel is not obvious. There are some occupations, such as manufacturing and meat processing, that show a strong association with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Common CTS Symptoms

Carpal tunnel symptoms typically include pain, a “pins and needles” sensation, numbness, and weakness in the hand and wrist. Most commonly, carpal tunnel presents with radiating pain from the wrist. Numbness typically occurs in the thumb, index, middle fingers, and the inside part of the ring finger. There are many other conditions that can cause similar symptoms including cervical radiculopathy, diabetic neuropathy, thoracic outlet syndrome, and multiple sclerosis to name a few.

Diagnosing CTS

Typically a doctor or qualified medical provider will make the diagnosis. An electromyogram and nerve conduction study can help to confirm a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome and the severity. Carpal tunnel generally does not cause numbness beyond the hand. If you are experiencing numbness in the forearm or upper arm, the numbness is likely coming from another source. Waking up in the middle of the night with numbness in the hand is often associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. The need to shake the hand to “wake it up” is strongly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome².

Managing CTS symptoms while kiting:

Tips for preventing carpal tunnel and managing early carpal tunnel:

  • Avoid prolonged kiting with wrists bent. Bending the wrist in either direction causes a significant increase in carpal tunnel pressure. Research shows as much as 15 times the pressure may be occurring in the carpal tunnel with the wrist bent as compared to a straight wrist³.
  • Especially as a beginner, we tend to over squeeze or “white knuckle” the bar. Be conscious not to unnecessarily grip the bar with too much force for prolonged periods.
  • Wearing a wrist brace at night can help control carpal tunnel syndrome. The brace’s function is to keep the wrist straight when sleeping. As mentioned, bending the wrist significantly increases carpal tunnel pressure. An over-the-counter wrist brace that keeps the wrist straight can be quite effective and is available at most drugstores and online. There is research to support immobilizing the wrist and first knuckles or MCP joints may be more beneficial⁴
  • Keep flexible, especially for more high-demand, unhooked maneuvers. There is some research to show yoga can be beneficial in decreasing carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms⁵.
  • Nerve gliding exercises, when performed properly can help improve nerve mobility and have been shown to decrease carpal tunnel symptoms⁶.
  • If you are dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome or have a history of CTS, the decreased bar pressure found in bow kites can help control symptoms.

Questions about how to manage carpal tunnel syndrome?

The Polyclinic’s Physical and Hand Therapy team has experience treating carpal tunnel syndrome as well as other overuse injuries. Call 206.860.2210 to schedule an appointment, whether in-clinic or by video visit.

1. Atroshi I, Gummesson C, Johnsson R, Ornstein E, Ranstam J, Rosén I. Prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in a general population. JAMA . 1999;282(2):153–158..
2. Krendel DA, Jöbsis M, Gaskell PC Jr, Sanders DB The Flick Sign in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1984; 47(8): 870–872. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.47.8.870
3. Gelberman RH, Hergenroeder PT,Hargens AR, Lundborg GN, Akeson WH The carpal tunnel syndrome. A study of carpal canal pressures. The Journal of Bone and Joint surgery. American Volume, 28 Feb 1981, 63(3):380-383 PMID: 7204435
4. Bulut, Gul Tugba; Caglar, Nil Sayiner; Aytekin, Ebru; Ozgonenel, Levent; Tutun, Sule; Demir, Saliha Eroglu Comparison of static wrist splint with static wrist and metacarpophalangeal splint in carpal tunnel syndrome.: Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation (J BACK MUSCULOSKELETAL, 2015; 28(4): 761-767.
5. Singhal A, Katz WA, Allan DA, Reshetar R, Schumacher HR J Yoga-based intervention for carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized trial.JAMA [JAMA] 1998 Nov 11; Vol. 280 (18), pp. 1601-3
6. Ballestero-Pérez, Ruth,Plaza-Manzano, Gustavo b, Urraca-Gesto, Alicia c, Romo-Romo, Flor c, Atín-Arratibel, María de los Ángeles, Pecos-Martín, Daniel Gallego-Izquierdo, Tomás dRomero-Franco, Natalia e, Effectiveness of Nerve Gliding on Carpal tunnel syndrome: A Systematic Review In Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics January 2017 40(1):50-59.