Contrary to popular belief, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is not confined to people in a single job category or industry. In fact, several studies have debunked the myth that there is an association between computer use and CTS, although it may cause other forms of hand pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist. While it is important to understand risk factors, a single cause of CTS has not been identified, so understanding symptoms and treatment options is important to prevent permanent muscle and nerve damage.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Overview
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. This nerve runs through the carpal tunnel, a narrow space in the palm side of the wrist that contains bones and ligaments, and provides feeling and some movement to part of the hand. It is considered a cumulative trauma disorder, or an injury caused by repeated damage to a specific body part.
The most common symptoms of CTS include numbness and tingling in the thumb, hand and fingers which starts gradually and comes and goes.
It can also cause weakness or fatigue in the muscles of the hand and is sometimes accompanied by pain. Long-term pressure to the median nerve can cause permanent nerve damage.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
In general, CTS can be caused by anything that compresses or irritates the median nerve. This includes things like a wrist injury or swelling and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been linked to repeatedly performing stressful motions with your hand or by holding your hand in the same position for long periods of time.
In addition, a number of other factors have been associated with the development of CTS. Although these factors alone don’t cause CTS, they do increase your risk of developing or worsening median nerve damage. They include:
- Age – CTS is much more prevalent in older adults and rarely affects children.
- Sex – According to the National Institutes of Health, women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel. The exact reason behind this is unknown, but may be linked to the smaller size of women’s carpal tunnel, hormonal changes and pregnancy.
- Obesity and Lack of Fitness – Being overweight plays a role in the development of carpal tunnel, as a higher BMI appears to reduce nerve flow in the hand.
- Other Medical Conditions – Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders and kidney failure, may increase your risk of developing CTS.
In many cases, a single cause of CTS cannot be identified and usually results from a combination of factors. To decrease your risk of developing carpal tunnel, we suggest the following:
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
- Take control of health conditions such as arthritis and diabetes.
- Evaluate your daily routine for repetitive activities that could increase risk.
- Take breaks from repetitive activities frequently to stretch and change position.
Carpal Tunnel Treatment
If you suffer from persistent symptoms associated with CTS, especially if they begin interfering with normal activities or sleep patterns, it is important to see your doctor before permanent nerve and muscle damage occurs. Your physician will likely conduct a physical examination to test the feeling in your fingers and the strength in your hand muscles. He/she will talk with you about your symptom history to help determine the cause. An electromyogram may also be conducted by inserting a thin needle into specific muscles to test the electrical activity of your muscles to determine if muscle damage has occurred.
If diagnosed early, nonsurgical methods can help improve CTS. Splinting the wrist, prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or injecting a corticosteroid may help alleviate symptoms and reduce the pressure.
Surgery may be needed if symptoms are still severe after attempting nonsurgical methods. Two types of surgery are commonly used to relieve pressure on your median nerve by cutting the ligament pressing on the nerve. These two methods include:
- Endoscopic Surgery – This method utilizes a tiny camera attached to a tube to observe the ligaments and tissue inside your carpal tunnel. One or two small incisions in your hand or wrist are made to cut the ligament.
- Open Surgery – The second more traditional method requires your surgeon to make a larger incision in your palm over the carpal tunnel to cut the ligament.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery at UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital
If you find yourself seeking an experienced surgeon to assist with pain and inflammation associated with CTS, UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital offers the most advanced orthopedics in the Dubuque area. From advanced diagnostic imaging technology to innovative orthopedic surgery, our team of leading orthopedic surgeons is dedicated to helping relieve discomfort and get you back on track.
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