Treatment aims to reduce pain and restore normal movement and function. Self-care measures and long-term strengthening are key to the treatment. Think of yourself as a ‘work athlete’. Having a well-designed exercise and recovery programme helps you maintain the work fitness that your job needs.
Treatment may include physiotherapy, occupational health review, medicine and/or exercise training. Surgery is only an option in rare cases when pain does not subside with continued self-care, strengthening exercises, physiotherapy and medicine.
The team of healthcare providers that may be involved in your care includes a GP, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a hand therapist or a musculoskeletal specialist. A qualified exercise trainer may be able to support you with an exercise and recovery programme. Yoga, massage, mirimiri and other complementary health practices may also help.
Self-care measures that could help speed up recovery and ease pain include:
- taking a rest from the problem activities
- taking up a ‘recovery’ activity eg, walking, aqua jogging or swimming
- changing and correcting postures
- using a splint or elastic support
- using hot and cold packs.
Strengthening muscles is extremely important for long-term care. A physiotherapist can show you progressive exercises to strengthen your muscles. They will explore how the pain influences your life and devise an individual plan with you. If your pain continues, they will also help you to work out how to move and do your required activities in different ways.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may be helpful for a few days. Some anti-inflammatories are available as a cream or gel that can be rubbed directly over the painful area. If you cannot take anti-inflammatory pain medication, other pain medication such as paracetamol may be helpful.
Corticosteroids may be injected around the area where the tendon attaches to the bone to help decrease swelling and pain, eg, if you have tennis elbow or where the nerve runs through a tight space, eg, if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Steroid injections may help ease pain in the short term but pain tends to come back in many people. You would need to rest the affected part of your body for a few days after such an injection, and slowly return to the progressive strengthening exercise and usual activity.
Surgery may be considered only if severe pain continues after 6–12 months of rest and treatment or if the condition is more likely to respond to surgery, eg, carpal tunnel syndrome. Your GP can give you more information about this option.