Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a problem that affects the wrist and hand. If you have CTS, tingling and numbness can make even simple tasks hard to do. But CTS can be treated, and your symptoms can be controlled.

Learning about carpal tunnel

The carpal tunnel is a narrow space inside the wrist that is surrounded by bone and ligament. This space lets certain tendons and a major nerve pass from the forearm into the hand. With CTS, the tendon sheaths may thicken and enlarge. This reduces the amount of space inside the carpal tunnel. As a result, the median nerve may be compressed.

The symptoms of CTS

Tingling and numbness are the most common symptoms of CTS. Some people also have hand pain or even a weakened grip. At first, symptoms may wake you up at night. Later, they may also occur during your daily routines. For instance, you may notice symptoms while you are driving or holding a newspaper. Your symptoms may become more severe over time.

Working with your doctor

Your doctor will perform an exam to learn more about your symptoms. Once your problem is diagnosed, you and your doctor can make a treatment plan. He or she may recommend wrist braces or splints, local corticosteroid injections, and/or surgery, depending on your history and the severity of your physical exam findings. If you have surgery, you are likely to go home the same day.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Prevention Tips

Some repetitive hand activities put you at higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). But you can reduce your risk. Learn how to change the way you use your hands. Below are tips for at home and on the job. Be sure to also follow the hand and wrist safety policies at your workplace.

Keep your wrist in neutral - Hand holding screwdriver with wrist bent and euroslash indicating not to do this. Hand holding screwdriver with wrist in neutral position.Keep a neutral (straight) wrist position as often as you can. Don’t use your wrist in a bent (flexed) position for long periods of time. This includes extended or twisted positions.

Watch your grip - Don’t just use your thumb and index finger to grasp or lift. This can put stress on your wrist. When you can, use your whole hand and all its fingers to grasp an object.

Minimize repetition - Don’t move your arms or hands or hold an object in the same way for long periods of time. Even simple, light tasks can cause injury this way. Instead, alternate tasks or switch hands.

Rest your hands - Give your hands a break from time to time with a rest. Even a few minutes once an hour can help.

Reduce speed and force - Slow down the speed in which you do a forceful, repetitive motion. This gives your wrist time to recover from the effort. Use power tools to help reduce the force.

Strengthen the muscles - Hand squeezing sponge. Keep your wrist in a neutral (straight) position when exercising. Weak muscles may lead to a poor wrist or arm position. Exercises will make your hand and arm muscles stronger. This can help you keep a better position. 

Treatments

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health and medical history
  • How bad your wrist is right now
  • How well you tolerate specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • How bad the disease is expected to get
  • Your opinion or preference
 

Treatment may include:

  • Splinting your hand. This helps keep your wrist from moving. It also eases the compression of the nerves inside the tunnel.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication. These may be oral or injected into the carpal tunnel space. These reduce the swelling.
  • Surgery. This eases compression on the nerves in the carpal tunnel.
  • Worksite changes. Changing position of your computer keyboard or making other ergonomic changes can help ease symptoms.
  • Exercise. Stretching and strengthening exercises can be helpful in people whose symptoms have gotten better. These exercises may be supervised by a physical or occupational therapist.
 

Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome

Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is usually done as an outpatient. Two types of carpal tunnel surgery are done: open surgery and endoscopic surgery. You may have local or general anesthesia, or both, for either surgery.

During open surgery, the surgeon cuts open your wrist. The tissue that is pressing on the nerves is cut. This relieves the pressure on the nerve.

During endoscopic surgery, the surgeon puts a long, thin rod through a tiny cut on the wrist. The rod, or scope, contains a camera and a light. The scope lets the surgeon to see inside your wrist. He or she cuts the tissue using tiny surgical tools.

After the surgery, your hand and wrist are wrapped and put into a splint. This will help to keep you from moving your wrist during your recovery. You will need to wear the splint for a week or two. You will probably have some pain after your surgery. It's usually controlled with pain medication taken by mouth. You may also be told to sleep with your hand elevated to help ease swelling.

Recovery from carpal tunnel surgery is different for each person. If your nerve has been compressed for a long time, recovery may take longer. You will be encouraged to move your fingers and wrist a few days after surgery to help prevent stiffness.

You may need to adjust your work or home activities while you recover. Talk with your health care provider about what you need to change.
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Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Symptoms and Screenings for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Causes and Preventions for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Education and Resources for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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Support groups for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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