Having a condition that affects the hand and wrist can be both painful and disruptive. One condition that can limit hand, arm and wrist function is carpal tunnel syndrome. According to research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010, an estimated 3.1% of working adults in the US between the ages of 18 and 64 had carpal tunnel.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition affecting the hands, wrists, and arms. It is caused by compression on the median nerve located in the passageway between the wrist and hand. This passageway is called the carpal tunnel.
The nerve may be compressed due to inflammation related to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, nerve damage from diabetes, fluid retention related to pregnancy and menopause.
Frequent use of vibrating tools and repetitive motions like writing or typing on the computer may cause carpal tunnel syndrome. These activities can aggravate the tendons in the wrist causing inflammation that puts pressure on the median nerve. However, sometimes pain associated with repetitive motion or wrist positioning may also be caused by other hand conditions and injuries.
Three Major Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
People with this condition may experience the following symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Tingling and Numbness
The first major symptom of carpal tunnel is tingling and numbness in the affected hand. The thumb, ring finger, middle finger, and index finger are generally affected while the pinky is not.
The tingling may sometimes feel like an electric shock in these fingers. Numbness starts gradually but may become constant as the condition worsens. It is not uncommon for tingling and numbness to travel up the arm from your wrist while performing everyday activities such as holding reading material, the steering wheel, or phone.
The second major symptom of carpal tunnel is a weakness in the hand. You may find yourself dropping things and having rouble maintaining your grip. This is caused by weakness in the muscles you use to pinch and grip things, which are controlled by the median nerve. You may also experience weakness in conjunction with the sensations of numbness.
- Pain and Discomfort
People suffering from carpal tunnel may experience pain and comfort due to the condition. The wrist and the palm are most commonly affected by pain and discomfort rather than the fingers, which are more likely to be numb or tingly.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
People suffering from the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may find relief from nonsurgical treatment, or they may require surgery to relieve the pressure on the median nerve.
- Splinting or Bracing: Wearing a brace or splint that keeps the wrist from bending is often an effective way to treat symptoms. These braces are usually worn at night to stabilize the wrist during sleep but some people find it useful to wear the brace to keep the wrist straight during daily activities that aggravate their symptoms.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These pain-relieving medications are available without a prescription. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen, which treat pain and reduce inflammation.
- Steroid Injections: A corticosteroid (cortisone) has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. When injected directly into the carpal tunnel, they can provide relief from pain. These injections are often effective but may only temporarily provide relief.
- Nerve Gliding Exercises: A doctor or physical therapist may prescribe specific exercises designed to help the median nerve move more freely in the carpal tunnel.
- Carpal Tunnel Release: This surgery relieves median nerve compression by cutting the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel. The tunnel is then bigger so there is more room for the nerve. Two surgical techniques can be used for this procedure – endoscopic and open – but both have the same goal and result.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, while recovery from carpal tunnel release surgery may be gradual, most patients experience symptom relief after the procedure.
When to See an Orthopedic Specialist
If you have the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome consider seeing an orthopedic doctor at South Shore Orthopaedics in Hingham, MA. We have physicians on staff who are specialists in hand and wrist issues and can work with you to form a treatment plan that will give you the results you desire. To make an appointment, call (781) 337-5555. Same-day appointments are available.