What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common nerve conditions. Patients will often report burning pain, tingling, or numbing sensations in the thumb, index, and middle fingers that emerge at night or throughout the day. The numbness and tingling will generally affect the hand and wrist, but can also radiate up or down the arm. Difficulty sleeping is a common issue, and a patient’s quality of life can be significantly affected. The symptoms will often come and go in the beginning, but will often progress to permanent numbness and weakness over time. This condition develops when swelling around the nerve or tendons causes increased pressure on the median nerve as it crosses the wrist in the tight carpal tunnel. The pressure results in decreased blood flow to the median nerve and nerve damage.
Individuals who have suffered wrist injuries, or make repetitive and forceful hand and wrist motions for work or sports-related activities, are usually at a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition may improve with conservative, non-surgical treatment; however, long-term carpal tunnel syndrome can cause permanent loss of sensation and coordination. Left untreated, the condition can also result in permanent muscle weakness of the thumb and base of the palm. While carpal tunnel syndrome is difficult to live with, our experienced reconstructive hand surgeons can recommend the most beneficial treatment to help alleviate your painful symptoms and restore hand function.
Signs & Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually arise in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. They may include:
- Burning pain
- Trouble pinching, grasping, or holding onto objects
- Difficulty using the thumb (inability to open a jar, use a screwdriver, etc.)
In severe cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause a complete loss of strength in the thumb muscles. Because the median nerve typically does not affect the little finger (pinky), symptoms experienced in this finger may indicate another condition. A ligament tear, thumb arthritis, or tendinitis may occur at the same time as carpal tunnel syndrome, and our hand surgeons have a wide array of treatments designed for these and other conditions.
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is clinical and based on a person’s symptoms, history, and physical exam findings. Patients may be recommended to have a nerve test performed by a neurologist which can help determine the severity of the nerve compression and rule out other potential causes of nerve symptoms, including nerve compression at the neck and diabetic neuropathy.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Increased pressure to the median nerve, as it crosses the wrist with the tendons of the fingers, is the main cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. This pressure can come from a number of influences. Work-related duties involving vibration or repetitive, forceful motion over a long period of time may lead to the development of this condition. Other factors that can cause undue pressure on the median nerve include:
- A history of fractures or arthritis
- Joint dislocations
- Fluid build-up during pregnancy
- Thyroid conditions, diabetes, or obesity
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated by both surgical and non-surgical remedies. Our experienced hand surgeons can create a treatment plan personalized to address your unique condition, but in general, your symptoms may be relieved by:
- Steroid injections to help decrease swelling around the median nerve
- Physical and occupational therapy to change patterns of motion
- Wearing a wrist splint to limit movement of the affected area
- Surgery to decrease pressure on the median nerve
While conservative treatments are often utilized first, surgery may be required if your symptoms do not improve. Our expert hand surgeons can help determine the most effective surgical approach to improve the mechanisms causing your carpal tunnel syndrome. Our expert surgeons offer the most state-of-the-art surgical solutions to carpal tunnel syndrome. Should surgery prove necessary, patients may experience temporary soreness around the treated area after the operation. Recovery from this condition will happen gradually, but taking measures to reduce pressure on the median nerve can help minimize the symptoms and burdens presented by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Q&A with Expert Hand Surgeon Dr. Pinsky
In this Facebook Live video, Dr. Pinsky explains Carpal Tunnel Syndrome including how it is diagnosed, how to treat it, when it is time to have surgery, and what you can expect after the procedure.