When your hand hurts or feels numb, it could be a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. While you can treat this condition with nonsurgical methods, such as medication and wearing a splint or brace, you might need surgery if you have severe pain or pain that doesn’t improve.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the tendons in your wrist become swollen. This increases pressure on your median nerve, which is a nerve that goes through the carpal tunnel inside your wrist. When this happens, it causes symptoms that make it difficult for you to move your fingers or hold objects.
What Are the Symptoms of It?
When you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you might not experience symptoms at first. Signs of this condition take awhile to become noticeable, but keep in mind that they gradually become worse without treatment. When you do start noticing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, these might include a tingling sensation or soreness in your hand. You might also feel pain move up your arm all the way to your shoulder, or you might experience sharp sensations, such as shocks, in your thumb and index fingers. These symptoms are usually temporary at first, and they might flare up when you hold objects. While you can usually shake your hand to ease these symptoms, this won’t always work. As carpal tunnel syndrome becomes worse, the muscles near your thumb can waste away, making it hard for you to hold items without dropping them.
What Causes It?
You can develop carpal tunnel syndrome over time if you perform repetitive movements with your hand, such as typing or holding a phone. Doing these movements or having your hand in a certain position frequently can cause your wrist tendons to swell and irritate your median nerve. You can also get carpal tunnel syndrome if small carpal tunnels run in your family or if you are experiencing hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy. This condition can develop as you get older or if you have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or thyroid problems.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your doctor can check for physical signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as weakness in your hand muscles, especially those near your thumb. You might also have tests done for a more accurate diagnosis, such as X-rays or electrical tests on your median nerve. If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll need treatment to prevent it from getting worse.
What Treatment Options Are There?
You can treat carpal tunnel syndrome with nonsurgical forms of treatment, such as wearing a splint or brace at night or while performing certain activities, taking medication for pain relief and modifying activities that cause symptoms to flare up. You might also benefit from receiving steroid injections to relieve severe pain. If nonsurgical treatment methods don’t work, your doctor might discuss surgical options.
Surgery for this condition involves cutting the ligament that forms the roof of your carpal tunnel in order to create more room inside it. This helps relieve pressure on your median nerve, which helps relieve pain, numbness and other symptoms. It can also lower your risk of developing severe muscle damage in your wrist and hand over time. This procedure is usually an outpatient one that involves using a local anesthesia rather than general anesthesia. You can have it done with traditional surgery or with minimally invasive endoscopic surgery. Traditional surgery involves making a larger incision to cut the ligament, while endoscopic surgery involves making a smaller incision and using a tiny camera and instruments to make this cut. Endoscopic surgery can result in a faster recovery time since the smaller incision typically heals more quickly.
What Happens After Surgery?
If you have surgery done for carpal tunnel syndrome, you can expect to have some soreness and swelling afterwards. You might have to wear a brace for a few weeks as your wrist heals. You might also have mild soreness and trouble gripping items for several months until your wrist fully heals.
Are There Risks with Surgery?
As with all types of surgical procedures, surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with certain risks. These include excessive bleeding, infection and nerve damage, although these are not common.