Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a debilitating condition for many people. If you believe that you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you know someone who might be, it is important to know its definition, causes and symptoms, as well as its non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Defined
It is a neurological disorder predominately affecting the hand, wrist and forearm, caused by the compression of the median nerve. The median nerve, which resides in the carpal tunnel (formed of ligaments and bones) becomes compressed at the wrist. This compression can cause pain, numbness and weakness that can radiate up the arm.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Genetic predisposition: This is the most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. Simply, your carpal tunnel is naturally smaller, thereby making the compression of the median nerve much easier.
- Injury: Sprains, breaks, fractures and other traumatic injuries that result in swelling can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions like an overactive pituitary gland, developing a tumor or cyst in the tunnel, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism and swelling during pregnancy can result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Work stress: Surprisingly, work stress does not necessarily mean repetitive motions like typing, as there is no concrete clinical proof that everyday repetitive motions cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Typically, repetitive use of vibrating hand tools and other similar equipment can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
Common Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Most commonly, carpal tunnel symptoms begin slowly and build in intensity. The following are some of the most widely reported carpal tunnel symptoms:
- Numbness, tingling, itching and burning sensations in the palm and fingers.
- The feeling of swollen fingers although no swelling is visible.
- Difficulty distinguishing between hot and cold to the touch.
- Losing strength in one or both hands.
- Inability or difficulty grasping objects, performing everyday tasks with hands or making a fist.
Non-Surgical Carpal Tunnel Treatments
- Carpal tunnel wrist brace: This product can help alleviate the pain and numbness associated with the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome. It keeps the wrist in a resting position, so that the wrist does not curl under or bend backward. This allows the carpal tunnel to be as wide as it can be. A carpal tunnel wrist brace is especially worn at night to keep the wrists from bending in an awkward and painful position. It can also be worn during the day to alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms, while still allowing you the freedom to perform necessary tasks.
- Carpal tunnel exercises: These exercises are used to strengthen your wrist and alleviate some of the pain and other symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Many exercises include stretching, strength training, gripping objects, and working with rubber balls or balls of puddy.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery
In most cases, carpal tunnel symptoms must be severe, persist for 6 months or longer, or cause the loss of hand or finger function before surgery is required. The following are common types of carpal tunnel surgeries:
- Open release: This is generally an outpatient surgery using local anesthetic. Open release surgery involves enlarging the carpal tunnel by cutting the carpal ligament, in order to reduce pressure on the median nerve.
- Endoscopic: This is a similar procedure to the standard open release, however, a camera is inserted into the wrist to observe its tissue. Endoscopic surgery is also done using a local anesthetic, and is usually an outpatient procedure.
If surgery is performed on your non-dominant hand, then you should be able to return to normal activities in a matter of days, however, if surgery is performed on your dominant hand, then it could take weeks before your hand is back to performing as usual. Physical therapy is usually recommended after surgery. It can speed up the recovery process by helping you regain your strength and flexibility.
Consult your physician before beginning a treatment regimen (or if your symptoms persist).