Do you repeat the same hand motions over and over at work or play — perhaps typing, doing needlework, gardening, or using a vibrating hand-held power tool? You could be at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful disorder of the wrist and hand affecting 4 to 10 million Americans. It occurs when inflammation, or swelling, within the enclosed area of the wrist puts pressure on the median nerve, causing numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand.
Other causes of swelling include pregnancy and illnesses, such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
According to orthopaedic surgeon Thomas B. Hughes, Jr., MD, common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle fingers
- Pain in the wrist, palm, or forearm
- Pain that wakes you up at night
- Pain and numbness that occurs with specific activities, such as holding a phone, driving, or anything involving the hand raised above the heart
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, your symptoms, and how you use your hands, followed by a physical examination. Your doctor may also prescribe a nerve conduction test, or electromyography (EMG) to confirm the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatments
With early diagnosis and treatment, carpal tunnel often can be treated without surgery, including:
- Wearing a splint on your wrist to maintain a natural wrist position, especially at night
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Cortisone injections
Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
When medication or other treatments do not provide relief, carpal tunnel release surgery may be necessary. The goal of this minimally invasive procedure is to take the pressure off the nerve at the wrist by releasing the ligament covering the carpal tunnel.
Carpal tunnel release surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. Patients often experience immediate relief in their hand once the pressure on the nerve is eliminated with surgery. It may take longer for other patients to feel relief — especially those whose symptoms progressed to the severe level.