What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that can cause numbness, tingling sensation, weakness, and other symptoms in the hand. It occurs when the median nerve, one of the major nerves to the hand, is compressed or squeezed. This can be a result of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, pregnancy, and repetitive movements of the same hand especially if the wrist is bent.

Most people get carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of different factors. It can be a combination of heredity, certain medical conditions, and repetitive hand use.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome develop gradually. Initially, there will be numbness or tingling sensation of the thumb, index, and middle fingers. This numbness usually come and go.

The tingling sensation may travel from the wrist up to the arm. Hence, people with the carpal tunnel syndrome usually “shake out” their hands to relieve them of these symptoms.

There can also be weakness of the hand, making one drop objects. This can be brought about by either the numbness of the hand or the weakness of the thumb’s pinching muscles.

Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A review of one’s medical history and a thorough physical exam are needed to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome.

During the physical exam, the doctor may press down the median nerve inside the wrist to find out if it causes numbness. He/she may also test for numbness or tingling by bending and holding the wrist in a flexed position. Sensitivity in the fingers and hands may also be tested as well as muscle strength around the base of the thumb.

Additional tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the condition. Some of these tests may include electrophysiological tests, x-rays, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

How It Is Treated

Although the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome develop gradually, they can get worse when the condition is left unmanaged. Hence, it’s very important to treat the condition as soon as it is diagnosed.

Nonsurgical Treatment

During the early stages of the condition, nonsurgical methods may be recommended for managing the symptoms. Some of the nonsurgical treatment options include the use of brace or splint at night for keeping the wrist in a neutral position, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, and nerve gliding exercises.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is only recommended if the nonsurgical treatment options are tried and there is still no relief from the symptoms.

The surgical procedure for carpal tunnel syndrome is called carpal tunnel release. In this procedure, the surgeon cuts through the ligament that is pressing down or causing pressure on the carpal tunnel. This creates more room for the median nerve and tendons passing through the tunnel. This procedure usually improves pain and restores hand function.