Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pamela L. Jones, MD
Board Certified Orthopedic and Hand Surgeon

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common problem that affects the hand and wrist. It has received a lot of media attention in the last few years due to suggestions that it may be linked to occupations that require repetitive use of the hands — such as typing. In reality, there are many people who develop this condition — regardless of the type of work that they do.

What are the signs and symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common problem that affects the hand. Symptoms include pain, tingling, or numbness in the thumb or palm of the hand; pain that shoots from your hand up the arm as far as the shoulder; or a swollen or tight feeling in your hand or wrists. Sometimes you'll notice that the symptoms worsen at night, your hands or lower arm feel weak in the morning, you drop objects more than usual, or you have trouble pinching or grasping objects.

What is Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and what causes it?
Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or CTS is caused when the median nerve is compressed at the wrist. The nerve is pinched between underlying ligaments and bones of the wrist and an overlying, tough ligament, the transverse carpel ligament. Inflammation of the muscles, tendons, or a fracture of the wrist can reduce the space in the carpel tunnel and cause pressure on the nerve.

CTS can be caused by an injury or trauma to the area, genetic predisposition, and repetitive motion. In addition people who suffer with Thyroid Diseases, Amyloidosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Diabetes are more prone to developing Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Of all these factors, repetitive motion is the most common cause of CTS. It is more often attributed to the workplace, but it can also be caused by hobbies that involve repetitive motions as well.

Are there ways I can decrease my chances of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The good news is that by following sound ergonomic principles you can lower your chances of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. And, there's more good news. If you catch CTS in its early stages, most of the pain and all of the disability can be avoided. At first symptom of CTS, I encourage you to see a doctor.

What kind of treatment is prescribed for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If your doctor determines that you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, basic remedies may include taking anti-inflammatories, diuretics, wearing an ergonomic glove or splint, or injecting the inflamed area with Corticosteroids. The last option is surgery.

How involved is the Surgery?
Surgery may be required to relieve the inflammation and to avoid permanent damage to the carpal tunnel itself. The surgery done to CTS is Carpal Tunnel Release. It is a minor operation in which the hand surgeon makes a cut in the ligament through a short incision with local anesthesia. Done on an outpatient/same day surgery basis, the operation only takes a few minutes and patients can return to normal activities afterwards, limited only by tenderness of the hand.

There is no need to live with the pain or disability caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you're experiencing pain, tingling, or numbness in the thumb or palm of the hand or think you may have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. see your doctor today.