What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition which creates pain, numbness and tingling in the hand that can travel upwards into the arm. It happens when the median nerve, one of the major nerves to the hand, is compressed inside the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway located on the palm side of the wrist. This syndrome worsens over time so it should be diagnosed and treated early. In the initial stages, carpal tunnel treatment includes wearing a wrist splint or ceasing any activities which brought on or continue to aggravate the condition. But if the pressure on the median nerve persists, nerve damage and more severe symptoms can occur. Permanent damage can be avoided with hand surgery which takes the pressure off of the median nerve.
Carpal Tunnel Causes and Risk Factors
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is contributed to a variety of factors. Studies indicate that women and older people are more prone to be diagnosed with this condition.
- Heredity may be a factor as the carpal tunnel can be narrower in some people, or because of other anatomic differences which can run in families.
- Repeated hand use, using the same hand and wrist motions for extended periods of time can aggravate the tendons in the wrist, causing inflammation which pressures the nerve.
- Positioning the hand and wrist in such a way to cause flexion over long periods of time can also put pressure on the nerve.
- Hormonal changes while pregnant can lead to swelling of the area surrounding the nerve, and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Certain health conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid gland problems are some conditions related to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Tingling or numbness, burning and/or electric shock-like pain which is usually located in, or radiates to, the thumb, index, ring and middle fingers
- Weakness in the fingers or hand, causing an inability to perform fine motor movements like sewing or buttoning clothes
- Pain which travels from the forearm to the shoulder
- Clumsiness or inability to hold onto objects because of weakness or numbness
When Carpal Tunnel Surgery Is Necessary
Often, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or steroid injections can help relieve the symptoms. But if pain continues, hand surgery may be indicated. How severe the symptoms are will dictate whether or not carpal tunnel surgery is required, but irreversible damage can occur if carpal tunnel syndrome destroys the muscles in the thumb or hand.
The hand surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is called “carpal tunnel release.” While there are a couple of different carpal tunnel surgery techniques, both have the same goal of relieving pressure on the median nerve by increasing space within the carpal tunnel. A surgeon will cut the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel, effectively increasing the space through which the nerve travels and thereby decreasing pressure on the nerve.