Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


What exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)? The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligament and bone at the base of the hand and it houses the median nerve, which runs through the forearm into the palm. CTS occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed or squeezed at the carpal tunnel site.

As for the “why,” call it a common condition of living. We use our hands every day; eventually, wear and tear sets in, which is one reason CTS is generally associated with older adults. Pregnancy is actually another common cause. During pregnancy, excessive fluid can cause tissue swelling and pressure on the nerve.

So everyday use of the hands is the most common culprit for CTS, but certain medical conditions can also leave patients predisposed to the disorder. In addition to pregnancy, these include diabetes, some auto-immune arthritic conditions and untreated thyroid disease. Some experts believe that occupations involving heavy vibration to the hand, such as use of a jack hammer or consistent and repetitive forceful gripping, may also lead to CTS.

If you suspect you have CTS, look for the most common symptom:

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers

You may notice it throughout the day, while sleeping or when you first wake up. If untreated the numbness can eventually become permanent and lead to motor loss or weakness.

The first level of treatment for CTS is almost always a wrist brace, which keeps the wrist still and gives the affected tendons opportunity to heal, and may be used in conjunction with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. If symptoms persist or become moderate to severe, patients can either receive a cortisone shot into the carpal tunnel or be recommended for surgery.

Corrective surgery for CTS is almost always effective, provided the diagnosis is correct and the patient did not wait too long to receive treatment. Carpal tunnel surgery is an outpatient procedure that uses local anesthesia and takes only five or so minutes to complete. Patients receive a couple of stitches and a small dressing on the hand and are instructed to not use their hand for two weeks while the wound heals.

Want to discuss possible carpal tunnel issues with an orthopedic specialist at Methodist Hospital for Surgery? Call us today at 469-248-3900.

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