Approximately one in 20 people develop carpal tunnel syndrome at least once in their lifetime, and 3-6% of people in the US suffer from it. It’s a fairly common injury, especially in modern times, and this painful condition can worsen with time, which is why you need to get treatment as quickly as possible. Here’s a look at some facts you should know about it:
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve in your wrist. It happens when a nerve or tendon swells or becomes inflamed. Compressed nerves and nerve trauma is relatively common, especially in women. While it is considered a modern ailment, earliest reports of CTS date back to the 1800s.
Who Are Most Vulnerable to It?
People with rheumatoid arthritis, patients with hypothyroidism, people with diabetes, and pregnant women are most vulnerable to it. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually disappears after pregnancy, but sometimes it can linger for several months. Don’t delay in getting treatment if that happens because there may be other underlying issues.
What are the Symptoms?
Early symptoms include a certain amount of stiffness that develops overnight. Patients feel the need to shake out their hands, hoping for some relief from discomfort. As the condition progresses, you may experience pain, numbness, and tingling. Patients usually feel these symptoms in their thumb and two fingers closest to it.
Severe nerve compression also weakens a person’s grip. You may struggle with opening bottles, holding items, or applying any pressure. Symptoms can get worse if a patient continues using the ailing hand for extended periods.
What Causes CTS?
Repetitive stress is a common cause of CTS. If you engage in activities like typing or playing the piano, you may develop CTS. Sometimes, there’s no clear underlying cause. Here’s a look at some commonly known triggers:
- Regular use of vibrating heavy machinery
- Edema or fluid retention caused by pregnancy
- Rheumatoid arthritis that causes inflammation or degeneration of nerves
- Underactive thyroid
- Injury to the wrist
- Overactive pituitary gland
- Tumor or cyst in your wrist
- Structural problems
These are some common causes of CTS. Get a complete examination and prompt treatment to ensure there are no serious underlying issues.
Testing for CTS
Most doctors will ask questions about your symptoms and see if they are an indication of carpal tunnel syndrome. They will scrutinize a patient’s hand, looking for any sign of weakness around the thumb. Here’s a look at some tests they perform:
- Tinel’s Test
- Phalen’s test for wrist-flexion
- Nerve conduction study
- Imaging scans like x-ray or ultrasound (MRIs are ineffective)
- Blood tests to look for underlying conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, or arthritis.
Once a doctor has conducted some of these tests, they’ll come up with a treatment plan. In most cases, physical therapy is sufficient.
Medical Treatment Options
A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or corticosteroid injections for treatment. Injections administered directly to the carpal tunnel are more effective than oral medication. If the symptoms last for more than six months despite various treatments, a doctor may recommend carpal tunnel release or decompression surgery. This outpatient procedure has a 90% success rate and provides long-term relief.
Patients can also perform some at-home exercises and take preventive measures to address this problem. Resting your hands, icing the affected area, wrist splints, etc., can help.
If you experience symptoms, contact your physician immediately for treatment. Prompt treatment is the only way of avoiding permanent consequences. It is also a good idea to look at underlying conditions like diabetes or obesity to prevent reoccurrence.
Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Physician, Dr. Stacie Grossfeld, has decades of experience helping patients in Louisville Kentucky with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Orthopaedic Specialists now at 502-212-2663.