Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common type of repetitive use hand injury affecting approximately five percent of Americans, and it often requires the attention of a carpal tunnel specialist. The condition usually occurs during adulthood and is more common in women than men. In about one-third of cases, the condition resolves without treatment. The majority of cases eventually require treatment with medications, surgery, or physical therapy.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a small passageway on the underside of the wrist that houses the median nerve. The median nerve runs from the forearm to the wrist and controls feeling and movement in the first three fingers and thumb. Swelling can cause the carpal tunnel to narrow, which places pressure on the median nerve.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors
Your carpal tunnel specialist can help you determine the likely cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome. Activities involving repetitive motions and overextension of the wrist are a common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Improper positioning of the wrist when using a mouse or keyboard
- Activities such as playing piano or typing that tend to overextend the wrist
- Prolonged or frequent use of power tools that vibrate, such as jackhammers
Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically diagnosed between age 30 and 60 years. Those most at risk include individuals working in construction, assembly line, or keyboarding occupations. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, high salt intake, and smoking may also increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain health conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure, and pregnancy have also been linked to a higher incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include tingling, weakness, and numbness in the fingers and hand. The hand may feel like it is falling asleep, and you may drop objects more often. The symptoms are usually most noticeable in the thumb and first three fingers; however, the pain can radiate up to the elbow. At first, the symptoms may be most noticeable at night. You may be able to “shake out” the numbness at first, but the pain may become constant as the condition progresses. You should consult a doctor anytime you experience carpal tunnel type symptoms that interfere with your sleep or daily activities. If left untreated, carpal tunnel can result in permanent muscle and nerve damage.
Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Although there are no sure-fire ways to prevent carpal tunnel, you can reduce the amount of stress that you inflict on your wrists and hands by doing the following:
- Take frequent breaks – If you engage in any repetitive tasks, allow yourself a short break every 30 to 60 minutes to stretch and bend your wrists. This is even more important if you use any type of equipment that requires considerable force or vibrates.
- Relax your grip and use less force – For example, avoid gripping pens too tightly or hitting computer keys too hard.
- Practice good form – When typing, keep your wrist in a relaxed neutral position. Avoid bending your wrist up or down all the way. You should try to have your keyboard at approximately shoulder height.
- Use good posture – Poor posture causes your shoulders to hunch forward. This shortens your neck and shoulder muscles, which can compress the nerves affecting the neck, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers.
- Keep your hands warm – Cold hands are more likely to become stiff and painful. If you work in a particularly cold environment, a pair of fingerless gloves can help.
How Can A Specialist Help My Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms?
Carpal tunnel specialists utilize a variety of surgical and non-surgical treatments depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. Most cases of mild to moderate carpal tunnel can be resolved with conservative non-surgical treatments, including:
- Wearing a wrist splint at night to ensure that the wrist is kept straight while sleeping
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and corticosteroid injections can provide temporary relief from carpal tunnel pain
Surgery may be necessary if the carpal tunnel symptoms do not improve after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, the symptoms severely impact daily life, or there is a risk of damage to the median nerve. The purpose of the surgery is to reduce pressure by cutting the carpal tunnel ligament impinging on the nerve. The procedure, known as a carpal tunnel release, can be performed using an endoscopic or an open method. During the endoscopic procedure, the surgeon uses a device with an attached camera to look inside the carpal tunnel. The doctor then makes one or two tiny incisions to sever the ligament. The open procedure also involves cutting the ligament but uses a larger incision in the palm of the hand. Following the surgery, the ligaments will gradually grow together but allow more room for the nerve than previously existed.
Your hand will likely remain somewhat weak and sore for several weeks to months following surgery. You should start using your hand as soon as possible following surgery to regain strength and range of motion. You should start gently and gradually work your way up to normal activities. Even when you have fully recovered, you should avoid activities involving extreme wrist positions or forceful hand motions to prevent further injury to your wrists.
The long-term outlook is good for individuals who treat their carpal tunnel symptoms early with lifestyle changes or physical therapy. Surgery is very effective in relieving symptoms that cannot be resolved with conservative measures. In very severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, it is possible that some symptoms may remain even after surgery although the severity is usually significantly less.
If you are dealing with any symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, contact our office today to schedule an appointment with a carpal tunnel specialist. We seek to make sure you receive the care you need in a non-invasive or minimally invasive way whenever possible. Feel free to ask us any questions you might have about the treatments that we provide or our diagnostic measures.