Carpal tunnel syndrome, also called median nerve compression, is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm, which occurs when the median nerve is compressed. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway surrounded by bones and ligaments along the palm side of the wrist. Early diagnosis and treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is important, since the condition tends to get worse over time. If pressure on the median nerve continues, nerve damage and more severe symptoms can develop.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most carpal tunnel syndrome cases are caused by a combination of factors. Studies show that women and older people are more likely to develop the condition. Anything that squeezes the median nerve in the carpal tunnel area may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Other risk factors include:
- Repetitive hand use
- Hand and wrist position
- Body fluid changes
- Other medical conditions
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome progress gradually, without a specific injury. The most common symptoms are:
- Numbness, tingling, burning, or pain – primarily in the fingers
- Shock-like sensations that travel up the forearm and toward the shoulder
- Weakness or clumsiness in the hand
- Dropping things
As the condition worsens, symptoms may occur more frequently or persist for longer periods of time. Many patients find that moving or shaking their hands helps to relieve some of the symptoms.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosis
During your initial evaluation, your Raleigh Orthopaedic hand and wrist specialist will talk to you about your general health and medical history, as well as the specific symptoms you are experiencing. They will carefully examine your hand and wrist and perform a number of mobility tests. Sometimes, your doctor may order certain imaging tests such as X-rays, EMGs, ultrasounds, and MRIs to provide a more accurate diagnosis and rule out other, more serious conditions.
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Without some form of treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome will likely worsen and may lead to other medical issues. Patients should seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear in order to avoid the need for surgery.
Nonsurgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome may include:
- Bracing or splinting
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Changes in activity
- Steroid injections
Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome may be appropriate if symptoms are severe and do not respond to other treatments. The surgical procedure for this condition is called “carpal tunnel release.” There are two methods of surgery, including open carpal tunnel release and endoscopic carpal tunnel release. The goal of surgery is to release pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the tunnel. By increasing the size of the carpal tunnel, pressure on the median nerve decreases. In most cases, carpal tunnel surgery is done on an outpatient basis using minimally-invasive techniques to minimize health risks and recovery time.
Recovery Time for Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Following surgery, you should expect some pain, swelling, and discomfort. During the healing process, your ligaments grow back together over time while allowing more room for the nerve. Your doctor will encourage you to elevate your hand above your heart and move your fingers to reduce swelling and prevent stiffness. Minor soreness in your palm may last for several weeks or months. Grip and pinch strength usually returns 2 to 3 months after the surgical procedure, however you will be able to use your hand for light activities. Talk to your doctor about when you can return to work and whether you will have any restrictions on normal work activities following your surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Prevention
There are no proven strategies to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from developing. However, you can minimize the stress on your hands and wrists using the following methods:
- Reduce force and relax your grip
- Take short, frequent breaks
- Watch your form and improve your posture
- Upgrade your desk chair and computer mouse
- Keep your hands warm
Carpal Tunnel Treatment in the Triangle Area at Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic
At Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic, we are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of hand or wrist-related injuries and conditions. Backed by years of experience, our orthopedic surgeons are equipped to perform a complete range of nonsurgical and surgical procedures and will determine the treatment path best suited to your individual needs. If you are dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome or you’d like more information about our orthopedic services, contact us to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Wake County today.