An explanation of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve due to a swelling or narrowing of the carpal tunnel passage within the anatomy of the wrist. The median nerve contributes to the sensation of the palm and the control of the thumb and first three fingers. The median nerve is located in the carpal tunnel along with multiple tendons which, if they become inflamed, can contribute to pain and loss of sensation in the hand and wrist.

Carpal tunnel is more common in women than in men, and experts believe this may be because women tend to have a smaller anatomy, thereby making their carpal tunnel narrower. There are other contributing factors to carpal tunnel syndrome, which may include conditions like arthritis and diabetes, repetitive or forceful motion of the hands, fingers and wrists, and possible hormonal changes.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but symptoms usually begin at the thumb side of the hand and then branch out as the condition progresses. Common symptoms may include pain, tingling, loss of sensation and loss of dexterity. These symptoms are usually localized to the hand and wrist, but may travel up the arm toward the elbow.

Upon suspecting carpal tunnel syndrome as a diagnosis, your orthopedic surgeon at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists will perform a physical examination, note your symptoms, and may perform diagnostic tests that may include diagnostic imaging like x-ray or MRI. Once the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome has been confirmed, a treatment plan can be put in place.

Depending on the severity and frequency of your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe conservative treatments to begin with. Avoidance of the activities that make your pain worse is often recommended as a first course treatment, followed by possible bracing. Additionally, many carpal tunnel patients find that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help with pain and inflammation, and your physician may also recommend placing a cold pack on the painful areas of your wrist and hand. Another treatment that may be considered are localized injections of corticosteroids, a powerful anti-inflammatory, into the areas of pain and inflammation.

If your carpal tunnel symptoms are severe or are not relieved by conservative measures, your physician may recommend carpal tunnel surgery. These surgeries can now be performed on a minimally invasive basis with a small camera known as an endoscope. The surgeon will enlarge the carpal tunnel, relieving the pressure on the median nerve, thereby relieving most if not all symptoms.