Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common but painful condition affecting the hands and wrists. Fortunately, in most cases it can be managed with conservative therapies.
As people spend more and more time on their phones and computers, carpal tunnel syndrome is becoming increasingly common. Affecting roughly 12 million Americans, the condition is caused by a compression of the median nerve within the carpal tunnel that connects the palm side of the wrist to the forearm and hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome leads to numbness, tingling, and pain in the thumb and first three fingers of the hand. The pain radiates up through the arm and often intensifies at night. Your hand may also feel weak, and you may have difficulty grasping and holding objects.
In its early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome can be managed with an ergonomic desk layout to reduce stress on the wrist. Massaging your hands and taking frequent breaks from the computer also helps. However, if your symptoms worsen, you may want to see an orthopedic specialist.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis, increase your chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition has also been attributed to professions that require repetitive hand and wrist movements, which is why so many people who work at computers are at risk. Poor posture and improper keyboard and chair placement contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, as well.
Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a physical examination to detect tenderness and swelling in the wrist. Tests to assess your muscle strength or lack of sensation in your fingers will be performed, as well. An orthopedist may also examine your shoulder and neck to check if any nerves in those areas are irritated.
A nerve conduction study is another common method to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome. In this in-office procedure, electrodes and thin needles inserted into the wrist muscles evaluate nerve impulses. Slow nerve impulses indicate possible carpal tunnel syndrome.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Choosing the right treatment depends on evaluating the severity of your symptoms. Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome often responds favorably to conservative therapies. These options include pain medication to reduce discomfort and inflammation, icing the wrist to reduce swelling, avoiding over-extending your wrist, and wearing a wrist splint. A steroid injection into the carpal tunnel to alleviate pain and swelling may also be recommended. After a period of rest, you can undergo physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the wrist muscles.
Although non-surgical methods are generally effective at minimizing symptoms, carpal tunnel release surgery may be advised in cases where there is significant nerve damage. This surgery serves to relieve pressure on the median nerve and create a larger pathway for the carpal tunnel. After your surgery, you’ll wear a splint, apply ice packs to the wrist to reduce swelling, and undergo physical therapy.
You can also take measures to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. If you work at a computer all day, make sure to monitor your posture and hand placement to ensure that you’re not overextending your wrist. Managing your diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis further lessens your risk of developing the condition.
Is it Time to See a Doctor for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, our experienced surgeons and physical therapists treat a variety of hand and wrist disorders. If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, we’ll develop a treatment plan to restore the full function and sensation in your hand and wrist. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.