Surgical and non-surgical treatments are available to provide carpal tunnel relief. So if you’re suffering from hand and wrist pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, a hand and wrist specialist can help.
In this article, we’ll discuss what causes carpal tunnel syndrome, the treatments that provide carpal tunnel relief, and what to expect during and after surgery.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a passageway in the wrist formed by the eight carpal (wrist) bones that make up the floor and sides of the tunnel, and the transverse carpal ligament, a strong ligament stretching across the roof of the tunnel.
Inside the carpal tunnel are nine flexor tendons that help you bend your fingers and thumb. Also running through the carpal tunnel is the median nerve, a cord containing thousands of nerve fibers that supply feeling to your fingers.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by increased pressure in the carpal tunnel resulting in compression of the median nerve. When the median nerve is pushed up against the ligament, blood flow to the nerve is restricted, causing a sensation in the fingers most people describe as “pins and needles.”
A variety of problems can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Some of the conditions that can lead to compression of the median nerve include:
- Inflammation or swelling around the tendons
- Fluid retention
- Wrist fractures and dislocations
- Crushing injuries to the wrist
- Rheumatoid/degenerative arthritis
- Tumors and tumor-like conditions
Activities that involve high force and repetition of the fingers or wrists (like lawn mowing, long-distance driving, or woodworking) may contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Any activity that involves prolonged or repetitive grasping or vibration can aggravate symptoms.
Interestingly, despite popular belief, keyboard usage has not been shown to cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The uncomfortable symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can leave patients desperate for carpal tunnel relief. Common symptoms include:
- Numbness, burning, or tingling of one or more of the fingers (excluding the little finger)
- Numbness or tingling at night that wakes you up from sleep
- Numbness and pain that extends up the forearm, into the elbow, or as far up as the shoulder and neck
- A decrease in sensation or feeling that causes clumsiness or weakness
- A difficulty grasping (you may find yourself dropping things often)
- A flattened appearance to the pad of the palm just below the thumb (when compared to the other hand)
How Can I Get Carpal Tunnel Relief?
Depending on the severity of your condition, different treatment options can provide carpal tunnel relief, both non-surgical and surgical.
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome should begin as early as possible to give the best chance at carpal tunnel relief.
Non-surgical treatment for patients with mild symptoms include:
- Modification of certain activities
- Workplace environment modification (e.g., ergonomics, antivibration gloves)
- Splinting to restrict movement of the wrist
- Over-the-counter pain medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to temporarily ease pain and swelling
- Physical therapy (e.g., nerve glides)
- Cortisone injections that provide carpal tunnel relief and reduce discomfort
When non-surgical treatments aren’t providing carpal tunnel relief—or in cases with more severe symptoms—surgery may be recommended.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the U.S.
Surgery to provide carpal tunnel relief is usually performed outpatient under local or regional anesthesia.
An incision is made on the palm, and the surgeon will cut (release) the ligament forming the roof of the tunnel. (In the case of endoscopic release, the incision is made in the distal forearm.) This relieves the pressure on the median nerve. Many people require carpal tunnel surgery on both hands.
There are two different methods typically used by surgeons:
Open release surgery: This procedure consists of making an incision up to 2 inches (typically, less than half an inch) in the wrist and then cutting the carpal ligament to enlarge the carpal tunnel. The ligament reforms in an expanded position without pressure on the nerve, so hand/wrist function is not compromised.
Endoscopic surgery: The surgeon makes one or two incisions (about ½ inch each) in the wrist and palm, then inserts a small camera. This lets them see the nerve, ligament, and tendons and cut the carpal ligament. This procedure can sometimes allow for a slightly faster recovery time.
Recovery from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
After surgery, patients looking for carpal tunnel relief can expect soreness from the incision for 4-6 weeks, and discomfort can sometimes last for a few months.
Improvements in strength and sensation depend on the extent of the nerve damage before treatment. Normal grip strength may not return for several months after surgery.
The natural healing process and regeneration of nerve fibers will occur over the following six months to a year. Some patients with severe nerve damage before surgery may never regain normal sensation, which is why surgery is recommended before symptoms become constant.
During recovery, your physician may recommend hand therapy to regain strength, reduce discomfort, manage scar pain, and increase the range of motion in your fingers and hands.
Carpal tunnel relief is achievable, as recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome following treatment is rare.
Get Carpal Tunnel Relief Now
You don’t have to live with pain and numbness. Indiana Hand to Shoulder Center specialists will help you get carpal tunnel relief with a treatment plan that works for you.
Whether you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist arthritis, mommy thumb, or any other condition that’s causing pain, our doctors can help.
Take Back Control of Your Wrists
To schedule by phone, call us at (317) 751-5904. Or, request an appointment online
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