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You’ve Been Diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel. Now What?

If you think you think you could have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common nerve disorders today. Answering ‘yes’ to one or more of the following questions means there’s a good chance you could have it, and you should contact a Beacon hand specialist for further evaluation.

  • Are your hands waking you up in the middle of the night with pain, burning, numbness, or tingling?
  • Do your fingertips have intermittent or constant numbness and tingling?
  • Have your hands become weaker recently, or are you dropping things?

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is an important area in your hand where the median nerve and tendons pass at the base of the palm and the beginning of the wrist. When the tendons that pass through this confined area become inflamed, pressure is increased on the median nerve and compresses it. That’s when you’ll begin experiencing pain, numbness, and tingling. You may typically notice symptoms at night and often wake up because of them. When left untreated, you can experience a decrease in hand strength and begin dropping things more frequently.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is sometimes confused with repetitive stress injury because it can be a contributing factor. However, in the majority of cases, the onset of carpal tunnel is brought about by a combination of one or more of the following factors:

  • Health: Certain underlying medical conditions can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome. Hypothyroidism, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis have all been linked to it. Pregnancy-related hormone changes can also contribute to occurrences of it in women.
  • Heredity: The carpal tunnel is smaller in some people than in others and this basic anatomical difference is often a family trait, making heredity one of the more likely contributing factors.
  • Repetitive Hand Motion: Activities that involve prolonged flexing or extension of the hand and wrist can often place undue pressure on the median nerve, which can lead to the onset of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Non-Surgical Treatment Options

Many patients respond positively to non-surgical treatments. In most cases, it can even be possible to slow or stop the progression of the disease through conservative means when caught in the early stages. Options include the following.

Wrist Splinting
Reduce pressure on the nerve in the carpal tunnel by restricting the movement of the wrist. Typically worn at night to keep the wrist from bending during sleep. In some advanced cases, a wrist splint can be worn during the day to avoid aggravating the condition.

Medication
Non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are often prescribed to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. In cases that fail to respond to over-the-counter medications, steroid injections can work to reduce chronic pain and inflammation.

Behavior Modification
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often exacerbated by certain activities. Symptoms can be alleviated if temporarily avoided. You can also modify work and recreational habits to avoid aggravating your condition.

Occupational Hand Therapy
Hand therapy is often prescribed as a support for basic carpal tunnel syndrome treatments. Therapy typically includes soft tissue massage, range of motion exercises, and ultrasound or electrical stimulation. While occupational hand therapy can be beneficial as a support to nonsurgical treatment, it is more commonly prescribed following carpal tunnel surgery

Surgical Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

While non-surgical treatments work well for many people, for others surgical intervention might be required. The typical surgical procedure involved is called carpal tunnel release. It’s designed to increase the carpal tunnel size and reduce pressure on the median nerve.

If you end up requiring surgery, your specialist will likely use one of two techniques — Open Carpal Tunnel Release or Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release. Both options are minimally invasive, tend to be on an outpatient basis, and only require a general anesthetic.

Recovery from open carpal release surgery is a gradual process. Pain and swelling could linger for several weeks after the procedure. You’ll likely need up to three months of occupational hand therapy before pinch and grip strength begin to return to normal. You might also be advised to periodically wear a splint or wrist brace during recovery. Expect to modify your work and recreational activities until your strength and dexterity return to normal. If your median nerve was overly compromised prior to your surgical procedure, recovery could take longer.

Finding an Orthopaedic Specialist

If you’re experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, our specialists at Beacon can evaluate your condition and work with you to find the treatment option that best suits your needs and lifestyle. In most cases, non-surgical treatments and moderate physical therapy can get you back to your baseline. If surgery is the prescribed approach, our experts are trained in the latest procedures and work closely with trained occupational hand therapists to you with the post-operative support you need to make a full recovery. Schedule an online appointment today.

Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine +