Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful but treatable condition that affects a person’s hand and wrist. The symptoms occur when the median nerve that runs through an area in the wrist called the carpal tunnel is compressed.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes such pressure to be put on the median nerve, but there are several conditions that increase the risk for CPS. People who play sports that require repetitive wrist movements, such as tennis, racquetball or rowing are at higher risk, as are people who have suffered a blow to the wrist. People who have jobs where they have to use a keyboard for most of the day are at risk, as are people with arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and obesity. Women are more at risk than men. Doctors believe this is because the carpal tunnel is smaller in women. Women who are pregnant or menopausal are at even more risk than most women.
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome start slowly and worsen over time. There is pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb and the index and middle fingers. The person may feel shooting pains from their wrist and up their arm that are worse at night, and there may be burning sensations in the fingers. The hand is stiff or cramped in the morning. The thumb weakens to the point where it may be difficult for the person to make a fist. The problem begins on the dominant hand before it spreads to the other hand.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
One way to for the patient to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome by themselves is to stand with the banks of their hands together, their fingers pointing down and their elbows pointing out to the side. If symptoms of pain, tingling and numbness appear in a hand, suspect carpal tunnel syndrome.
At the doctor’s office, the doctor will examine the patient’s hand and wrist, and ask about their activities. They’ll also conduct tests to check the functioning of the median nerve.
Treatment varies from patient to patient. Some patients only need to wear a splint for about a month to a month and half. These splints keep the wrist in a neutral position, and reduce inflammation. They can be worn during the day, during the night or round the clock. The doctor may give the patient corticosteroid injections for the inflammation. About one third of carpal tunnel patients don’t need any more treatment after this.
If the carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments, the doctor may recommend surgery. Carpal tunnel surgery is an outpatient procedure whether it is an open surgery or an endoscopic surgery. In both cases, the doctor finds and cuts the carpal ligament that’s impinging on the median nerve. This usually eases the symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is common, but with treatment the great majority of patients make a complete recovery and are able to resume their daily activities.
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If you believe you have carpal tunnel syndrome, call to set up a consultation with Jeffrey M. Epstein today.