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.

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What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

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 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 Syndrome

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 may tingle during the day and it may become hard for you to make a fist. Your pain may increase, even 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 health care provider.

“Many times, we try to treat carpal tunnel syndrome without surgery,” Dr. John Fowler, MD, UPMC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, tells WPXI. “There’s various braces that can be effective. Sometimes we try hand therapy, different medications, and even steroid injections into the carpal tunnel. Some patients, though, have either severe carpal tunnel or have failed those non-operative treatments and then we plan for surgery.”

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 health care provider may be able to prescribe medications to correct underlying medical disorders ,such as hypothyroidism or 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 often is recommended in patients with moderate or severe carpal tunnel syndrome to prevent permanent loss of function and sensation.

“The nice thing is that surgery has come a long way,” says Dr.  Fowler. “Now, we have several minimally invasive techniques which generally get people back to life a lot quicker.”

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.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

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