If you’re experiencing numbness, tingling, or pain in your hand or wrist, you may wonder if you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that happens when the median nerve, located in the forearm and palm, becomes compressed. This can cause tingling, numbness, and pain in the affected hand and wrist. In severe cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can even cause weakness in the hand.
While carpal tunnel syndrome can be painful and disruptive, treatments available can help relieve symptoms and improve function. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the causes and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome as well as some treatment options.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by a combination of factors. Some people are born with narrower than normal carpal tunnels. Others develop the condition as a result of repetitive hand and wrist motions or from certain conditions. While various factors can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, there are 3 leading causes: injury, overuse, and anatomic abnormalities.
Injury to the wrist can cause swelling and inflammation, which puts pressure on the median nerve and leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some examples of injuries that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome are fractures, dislocations, and sprains. Surgery on the wrist, such as for women who have had carpal tunnel release during pregnancy, is another example of an injury that can lead to this condition.
The repetitive motion of the hands and wrist can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This is often seen in assembly line workers or office workers who type for long periods. People who play video games or instruments extensively can also develop this condition from overuse. Any activity that puts repeated stress on the hands and wrists can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Occasionally, anatomical abnormalities exist at birth that put pressure on the median nerve and results in carpal tunnel syndrome. These abnormalities include narrow passageways in the wrist, cysts or tumors near the median nerve, or inflammation from arthritis. Anything that crowds or puts pressure on the median nerve can lead to symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The primary symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is a loss of feeling in the hand and fingers. This numbness is usually worse at night because gravity causes the compressed nerve to exert more pressure on the tissues around it. Other symptoms include tingling, pain in hand or fingers (especially when gripping something), weakness in the hand, and a feeling of clumsiness in the affected hand. If you experience any of these symptoms, you must see your doctor for an evaluation.
Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are various treatment options available for carpal tunnel syndrome—conservative and surgical—and choosing the proper treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are.
If you’re suffering from mild carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be able to find relief with non-surgical treatments. Common non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Acupuncture treatment: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment that involves the insertion of thin needles into the body. It’s believed to stimulate circulation and reduce inflammation, which can help relieve carpal tunnel symptoms.
- Wrist splinting: A wrist splint holds your wrist in a neutral position to take the pressure off the median nerve. You can wear a splint at night to keep your wrist from bending while you sleep.
- Steroid injections: Corticosteroid injections can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the wrist and hand.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy exercises can help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your hand and wrist.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can teach you how to modify your daily activities to minimize stress on your wrists and hands.
If these non-surgical treatments don’t’ provide relief, you may need to consider surgery.
Surgical Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If conservative treatment options don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery to relieve pressure on the median nerve. The most common surgical procedure for carpal tunnel syndrome is called carpal tunnel release. During this surgery, the surgeon will cut through the ligament that puts pressure on the median nerve. This relieves stress on the nerve and reduces symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Surgery is usually only recommended if other treatment options haven’t worked and if symptoms are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities.
Carpal tunnel surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, which means you’ll be able to go home the same day as your surgery. Most people experience a significant improvement in symptoms after surgery; however, it may take several weeks or months for a full recovery. It’s’ important to follow your doctor’s instructions during recovery to avoid injuring your hand or wrist while they heal.
The bottom line
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition affecting millions of people yearly. The good news is that there are treatments available that can help relieve symptoms and improve function. If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options so you can get back to doing the things you love without pain or other disruptions.