Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The Basics

Pain, painful, carpal tunnelWhat does an office assistant, assembly line worker, and freelance artist have in common? A higher chance of carpal tunnel syndrome!

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist. The carpal tunnel of the wrist is a narrow tunnel formed by the small carpal bones of the wrist on the bottom and the carpal ligament along the top. The median nerve–which provides feeling in the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers–and nine flexor tendons of your hand, go through the carpal tunnel.

The carpal tunnel, due to its rigid construction and small space, doesn’t have any room to expand or contract. When the tissue around the flexor tendons swell, for example, the increase in size can’t be properly accommodated. This puts pressure on the median nerve, which causes pain, numbness, hand weakness, and other similar symptoms. Continued pressure from frequent swelling can cause permanent damage.

Because the median nerve connects your brain to your fingers, it’s possible that symptoms can extend from the base of the neck and down the arm. Some patients experience a painful, tingling sensation through their arm as well as the more localized symptoms.

Carpal tunnel usually only occurs in adults, and is most common in assembly line workers. Individuals with diabetes or other metabolic disorders that directly affect the nervous system are also more likely to develop carpal tunnel.

Early diagnosis is key to managing carpal tunnel syndrome and preventing permanent nerve damage. Icing your wrist each hour to give the nerve a break and reduce swelling, taking NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen), and wearing a wrist splint to take pressure off the median nerve can stop long-term damage.

Before the pain even begins, there are some steps you can take to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from developing. Keeping your wrist in a neutral position (not resting it on the desk or keyboard while typing), switching your hands when performing repeated movements, and holding objects in the palm of your hand instead of with your fingers can all help prevent carpal tunnel before it begins.

If carpal tunnel syndrome is allowed to progress to the point of severe pain or an inability to use the hand, surgery may be required in order to make room for the nerve. In this case, they cut the carpal ligament to make more space. We consider surgery to be a last resort. “Recovery may range from just a few weeks to 3 months,” Dr. Bart Eastwood said. “Most people recover fully after surgery, but severe cases of carpal tunnel can cause permanent, long-term nerve damage that may only be partially resolved after surgery, and there is no guarantee that all symptoms will cease; it depends on the damage to the median nerve.” Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome often start gradually before progressing, so the moment you begin to experience symptoms, make an appointment with us or come to our walk-in clinic to get a treatment plan set up. The sooner we intervene, the lesser the chance of requiring surgery!

By |2019-06-03T13:48:48-04:00June 3rd, 2019|Blog|