We place a tremendous amount of demand on our hands, fingers and wrists every day, requiring them to perform an unlimited number of tasks without giving it much thought. But for people with pain and weakness due to carpal tunnel syndrome, some of those tasks may not be so easy.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is very common in adults and generally affects women more often than men. Symptoms can range from a tingling sensation and numbness to radiating pain, weakness and loss of grip strength. It can become difficult to open a jar, turn a door knob, button a shirt, grip a car steering wheel or type on a computer keyboard. In addition to causing discomfort during the day, carpal tunnel symptoms can be severe enough to awaken many people from a deep sleep at night.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway or “tunnel” on the palm side of the wrist that protects the meridian nerve and the flexor tendons as they pass between the forearm and the hand.
Sometimes the tissue surrounding the flexor tendons becomes inflamed and swollen, which narrows the tunnel and puts pressure on the meridian nerve. Symptoms typically start gradually and get progressively worse over time.
According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons there is usually no one single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, however medical experts agree that there are several contributing factors, including:
• Work or recreational activities that require repetitive movements or create vibration of the hand and wrist
• Wrist fractures, dislocation or bone spurs
• Medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, gout, lupus, thyroid disease and kidney disease
• Fluid retention related to pregnancy, menopause or obesity
• Anatomy – smaller than average carpal tunnels can be an inherited tendency in some families. In addition, women tend to have smaller carpal
tunnels than men.
• Age – the risk of developing carpal tunnel increases with age
A number of treatment options are available for carpal tunnel syndrome. Splinting or bracing the wrist may help relieve tingling and numbness by keeping the wrist in a neutral position. Anti-inflammatory medication and ultrasound-guided steroid injections can help reduce swelling.
But outpatient minimally invasive surgery may be a more permanent solution to relieve pain and worsening disability. Surgical treatment involves cutting the ligament inside the carpal tunnel to create more space. As the ligaments grow back together during the healing process, it will naturally create more space in the carpal tunnel, eliminating compression on the meridian nerve.
Minimally invasive carpal tunnel surgery has an excellent success rate. An estimated 500,000 people undergoing the procedure annually. Although recovery is individual, most patients can begin light activity within a few days of surgery and can expect to recover grip strength and resume a full range of activities in about four to six weeks.
John Kagan, M.D., is a successful board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has been treating patients in Fort Myers and Cape Coral for more than 30 years. For more information about orthopedic-related conditions and treatment options, go to www.kaganortho.com/learn-more or call the office for a consultation at 239-936-6778.