Carpal Tunnel Surgery
The carpal tunnel is a narrow, fibrous passage in the wrist that protects the median nerve, which controls movement and sensation in the hand and thumb, index and middle fingers. This area can be easily irritated by a change in tissue position that causes the carpal tunnel to squeeze and compress the nerve. When irritated, the median nerve can cause tingling and numbness in the fingers, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Nerves are most often irritated when pressure is applied from surrounding structures. This pressure is known as impingement or nerve entrapment and can cause numbness, tingling, pain and weakness throughout the affected area.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that most often affects people whose jobs require repetitive use of their hands, and is also more common in women. This condition spreads gradually and usually begins as an ache in the wrist that may extend down to the forearm or up to the hand. As CTS develops, you may also experience tingling or numbness in the fingers or pain radiating through the entire arm. Some people may also experience weakness in the hand and arm, and may have difficulty grasping small objects. These symptoms are usually most severe when first waking up or when using your hands.
Although most people associate carpal tunnel syndrome with pain and tingling in the fingers, it is important to note that this condition does not affect the pinky finger. If you are experiencing symptoms in this finger, you may be suffering from another condition.
Despite common belief, carpal tunnel is not necessarily caused by overuse, but may be a result of a genetic predisposition. Some people naturally have a smaller carpal tunnel that is susceptible to irritation. Other cases may have no direct cause, or may occur as a result of arthritis, diabetes, obesity, menopause, injury or overuse. Any pressure placed on the median nerve can trigger symptoms, as this nerve is mixed and contains both a sensory function and the ability to provide nerve signals.
Patients who suffer from symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome should seek medical attention in order to have their condition properly diagnosed. Carpal tunnel is usually diagnosed by obtaining a complete medical history and physical examination. It is important to accurately describe your symptoms to your doctor. Dr. Birndorf may order diagnostic tests such as an electromyogram or nerve conduction study in order to measure nerve impulses that can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome or other similar conditions.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can usually be treated through conservative methods that include:
- Resting the hands
- Applying cold packs
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Corticosteroid injections
- Physical therapy
These treatments work to relieve symptoms and are usually effective in doing so. CTS caused by other conditions can often be relieved by treating the underlying cause.
More severe cases of CTS, or those that persist for more than six months, may require surgery to relieve tingling and numbness. Surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome involves cutting the ligament that is pressing on the nerve. After surgery, most patients feel great relief in their symptoms, but may still experience mild numbness, pain or stiffness. You may also experience soreness or weakness for several weeks after surgery, but these symptoms usually subside, letting patients enjoy their daily activities without the painful symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
After treatment, most people enjoy a full recovery from carpal tunnel syndrome and do not suffer from recurring symptoms. There are certain measures you can take to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if you perform repetitive movements for your job or other daily activities. Some of these include taking frequent breaks, wearing splints to keep wrists straight, improving your posture and keeping your hands warm.
You can discuss these and other preventative measures, along with any concerns you may have about carpal tunnel syndrome, with Dr. Birndorf. Seeking medical attention for this degenerative condition is often the most important step in relieving your symptoms.