Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common hand problems in the U.S., affecting between 4 million and 10 million people, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS) can affect just about anyone, but it’s more common among middle-aged people and women — in fact, women are about three times as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome as men.
Of course, just knowing there are plenty of other people experiencing the same symptoms as you doesn’t really make those symptoms any less painful. The good news is, CTS is very treatable — and in most cases, you can find relief with nonsurgical treatments customized for your symptoms and your lifestyle.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage that’s formed by your wrist bones and a strong ligament, called the transverse ligament, that makes up the “roof” of the tunnel. Normally, this tunnel acts to protect the large median nerve (the main nerve in your wrist) as it travels from your forearm into your hand. But sometimes, inflammation or other problems can cause the tunnel to become narrower than normal, and the median nerve can become “pinched” or compressed, resulting in symptoms like pain, tingling, or weakness in your fingers or palm.
Lots of factors can cause or contribute to CTS and its symptoms, including:
- repetitive use of the hands, fingers, or wrists
- long-term use of vibrating tools
- sprains, fractures, or other injuries that cause swelling in or around the wrist
- diseases like arthritis or thyroid disease
- cysts or tumors near the carpal tunnel
- fluid retention
- small wrist size
Sometimes, multiple factors can cause symptoms; other times, the cause of CTS can’t be determined.
CTS treatment options
At The Woodlands Sports Medicine Centre, carpal tunnel syndrome treatment begins with a thorough evaluation of your hand and wrist, as well as a review of your health history and your lifestyle to help determine what’s causing your symptoms. In addition to a physical exam of your hand and wrist, our team may order X-rays or other imaging tests or nerve conduction studies to gain a complete picture of your condition.
Most patients who have CTS benefit from conservative options aimed at decreasing swelling and inflammation in and around the wrist. These options could include:
- gentle stretching and other therapeutic exercises to help reduce inflammation and improve movement in the wrist and hand
- splinting to provide support while the wrist rests and recovers
- over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen to treat painful symptoms
- injections of corticosteroids to relieve inflammation
- taking frequent breaks during any activities that require use of your hands or wrists
If these more conservative options don’t provide meaningful relief for your pain, numbness, or other CTS symptoms, you might need surgery to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
Carpal tunnel surgery
CTS surgery (also called carpal tunnel release) focuses on dividing the ligament “roof” over the carpal tunnel to provide more room for the nerve as it travels from the forearm into the hand. There are two methods used in carpal tunnel surgery:
- In the endoscopic approach, one or two tiny incisions are made in your wrist. A flexible instrument called an endoscope is inserted through one incision. The endoscope uses a very tiny camera to view the structure of your wrist, and specially designed instruments are used to perform the surgery.
- In the open approach, a slightly larger incision is made in the palm of your hand. Our team uses this incision to access, view, and cut the ligament.
No matter which approach is used for your surgery, recovery is similar. You’ll need to wear a brace during the early stages of healing, and you’ll also need to have physical therapy to restore flexibility and strength in your hand. Most people can expect to have grip strength restored within two to three months, but in severe cases, complete recovery can take longer.
Get relief for your CTS symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can take a major toll on your quality of life, but fortunately, CTS treatment can make painful symptoms a thing of the past. The Woodlands Sports Medicine Centre finds the best treatment option for your needs and treatment goals. To schedule your CTS evaluation, book an appointment online today.