Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common hand and wrist disorder that occurs when the median nerve within the carpal tunnel is compressed, functionally a pinched nerve. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligament and bone in the wrist containing nerves and tendons that can become irritated and swell, thus narrowing the tunnel. The median nerve is one of the hand’s primary nerves, going down all the way through the arm and forearm before passing through the carpal tunnel to the hand. It provides feeling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers, as well as the muscles at the base of the thumb.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome develops when the tunnel is narrowed or when the tissues (synovium) surrounding the flexor tendons swell. Normally, the synovium lubricates the tendons and makes it easier to move our fingers, but it can crowd the nerve if it swells over time.
What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
- There are a number of risk factors that make developing carpal tunnel syndrome more likely. These include having a smaller than average carpal tunnel (hereditary), performing repetitive assembly line work, and past wrist trauma (like joint dislocations and fractures). Women are also 3 times more likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than men, especially during pregnancy due to fluid build-up. Pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid gland imbalance are also associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What are the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
- If you’re experiencing difficulty grasping things or feeling numbness in your fingers, hands, or wrists, you may be dealing with symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There are a number of common complaints from patients, like symptoms seeming their worst at night or when first waking up and being noticeable when holding a phone or driving. You may be having difficulty feeling smaller objects like shirt buttons or coins, or feel clumsier than usual and drop things often. Patients often experience tingling “shock-like” or burning pain primarily in the thumb, index, middle, and/or ring fingers that may be temporarily relieved by shaking or moving the hands. Symptoms get progressively more debilitating if left untreated, so early diagnosis and treatment is necessary to avoid permanent nerve damage.
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome treated?
- Non-surgical treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can include resting the affected hand and avoiding activities that would aggravate the hand and wrist, possible splint immobilization to prevent use and reduce pressure, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin), steroid injections into the carpal tunnel. For surgical treatment, carpal tunnel release is a common procedure that relieves pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the tunnel, giving the nerve more room. Pain, swelling, stiffness, and some minor soreness can be expected for several weeks or months during the recovery process. Other conditions like arthritis and tendinitis can slow recovery.