carpal tunnel

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs in your fingers and results in numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The symptoms are caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist level.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel?

Trauma, an overactive pituitary gland, underactive thyroid, and fluid retention among menopausal and pregnant women are main contributors. In some cases, people are simply born with a narrow carpal tunnel that makes them more likely to develop symptoms later in life. Women are also three times as likely to develop carpal tunnel compared to men

The syndrome can be debilitating and sometimes surgery is required to take pressure off of the nerve. Left untreated, the median nerve can suffer permanent damage. Along with sensation, the muscles around the thumb degenerate and you can lose the ability to grasp small objects or even tell the difference between hot and cold temperatures.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome begin gradually and worsen over time. One early sign is waking up with numb hands. Over time, your hands might tingle during the day and it becomes more difficult to make a fist. Pain might ensue, becoming intense. You may have a swelling sensation in your fingers and notice yourself dropping objects more often.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a visit to your healthcare provider. First line therapy includes activity modification and a splint that is worn at night. Wrist flexion puts increased pressure on the nerve. By wearing the splint while sleeping, wrist flexion is prevented and the nerve is allowed to “rest” at night. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen have not been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. Your healthcare provider may be able to provide medications to correct underlying medical disorders such as hypothyroidism and an overactive pituitary gland. An injection of corticosteroids into the carpal tunnel may provide temporary relief.

Depending on the severity, a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon who is a hand specialist may be necessary. Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery is often recommended in patients with moderate or severe carpal tunnel syndrome to prevent permanent loss of function and sensation.

Carpal tunnel syndrome should be taken seriously. If you are experiencing any symptoms, it is vital you see your provider before they worsen. For more information on treatment options, please visit UPMC Orthopaedic Care or schedule an appointment with one of our experts.