Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when the nerve that runs from the hand down into the forearm, called the median nerve, becomes compressed or pinched. This nerve runs through the carpal tunnel which is like a tunnel or canal that is located in the wrist. Inside this tunnel are nine flexor tendons that run through the hand. On the outside of the tunnel are bones and a transverse carpal ligament. Anytime the size of the tunnel is decreased the median nerve can be compressed. This can be done simply by bending the wrist or through swelling of tissues around the tendons. When the median nerve gets compressed it causes burning, numbness or tingling in the hand and fingers. Often the pain can be felt more in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Weakness in the hand and wrist muscles is also very common. One of the most frequent signs of carpal tunnel syndrome is waking at night with pain, tingling or numbness in the wrist and hand. Because people tend to flex their wrists and sleep with them bent, it causes narrowing of the carpal tunnel.
Research has shown that carpal tunnel syndrome is actually three times more likely to develop in women than men. Quite possibly this is a result in women’s wrists being built smaller resulting in a smaller carpal tunnel. For those who suffer, the hand that is most dominant is usually the first to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. This hand can be the only one affected or just be the one that shows the most severe symptoms.
If you are showing signs of carpal tunnel syndrome it is best to get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Early treatments are the best way of preventing permanent damage to the wrist and median nerve. There are several different tests used to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and your doctor will be able to determine the best tests for you and will be able to rule out any other conditions that could be mimicking the same symptoms.
Once a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome has been confirmed, treatments are usually started right away. If the carpal tunnel is being caused as a secondary condition due to arthritis or diabetes then it is very important to start treatment for those conditions first, especially since those conditions are responsible for causing more sensitivity to nerves and joints. To start treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome it is important to limit the use of the affected wrist. Wearing a splint to stop the wrist from bending and causing more damage is often a first step. Activities that use the wrist will need to be avoided so the wrist can rest. If swelling is persistent the doctor may recommend using an ice pack on the wrist a couple times a day to reduce the inflammation.
Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help take the edge off if the pain is not too severe. The doctor may recommend injections of corticosteroids periodically into the wrist to alleviate pressure. These injections will provide immediate results although temporary. Sometimes physical therapy can offer relief to patients by using strengthening and stretching exercises.
If symptoms continue to worsen or are very severe it is often necessary to perform surgery on the wrist. There are typically two procedures used. One is the Open Release Surgery and the other is Endoscopic Surgery. Both surgeries are performed to sever the band of tissue around the wrist. This will allow the pressure on the median nerve to be released. The surgeries are out patient and usually relief is felt fairly quickly, however, full recovery can take months to achieve.
For those who feel they may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, it is a good idea to get evaluated by a doctor specializing in this field as soon as possible. That way you can prevent any unnecessary damage to your wrist.
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