What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? | UPMC Orthopaedic Care

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.

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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.

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.