What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common, painful, progressive condition that is caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist area.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling sensation in all the fingers, with the exception of the little finger. There may also be weakness of the hand with diminished grip strength.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The exact causes of the condition are not known. However, certain factors increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Idiopathic: Frequently can arise without any known underlying cause
- Medical conditions such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Overactive pituitary gland
- Work with vibratory tools
- Presence of a cyst, mass or tumor in the carpal tunnel
Computer work or typing has not been proven to have a significant association with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Conservative Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome may be treated using conservative approaches. The conservative treatments include:
- Treating underlying medical conditions
- Night time immobilization of the hand and wrist with a splint or wrist brace for 4-6 weeks
- Resting the hand or avoiding use
- Ice packs to avoid swelling
- Avoiding activities that tend to worsen the symptoms
- Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid injections
- Strengthening and stretching exercises once symptoms diminish
Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be treated with carpal tunnel release surgery. If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition, your surgeon may recommend surgery. During the surgery, the transverse carpal ligament will be dissected to release the pressure on the median nerve and enlarge the carpal tunnel.
The traditional surgery involves an incision of up to 2 inches in the palm and wrist area. Endoscopic surgery involves one or two half-an-inch incisions and the use of an endoscope. Additionally, carpal tunnel release surgery can now be done with minimally invasive techniques under local only anesthesia. Your surgeon will decide which options are best for you based on your general and medical conditions.
Post-operative Care for Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
Your surgeon may suggest that you practice certain post-operative procedures for better recovery and to avoid further complications.
- Elevate your hand above heart level to reduce swelling.
- Wear a splint.
- Ice packs to the surgical area to reduce swelling.
- Keep the surgical incision clean and dry. Cover the area with plastic wrap when bathing or showering.
- Physical therapy may be ordered to restore your wrist strength.
- Eating a healthy diet and not smoking will promote healing.
Risks and Complications of Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
You may not experience any complications following carpal tunnel release surgery. However, sometimes you may suffer from pain, infections, scarring, and nerve damage causing weakness, paralysis or loss of sensation and stiffness in the hand and wrist area. Lastly, if the nerve has been compressed for a long time you may have incomplete recovery of your sensation.