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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – What is it?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – What is it?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs as the result of pressure on the median nerve. Located on the wrist, this nerve provides feeling and movement to the side of the hand closest to the thumb. Pressure on this nerve can cause numerous symptoms including tingling, pain, numbness, and weakness. Over time, it can also lead to muscle damage in the fingers and hand.

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

The nerves enter the hand from the wrist through the carpal tunnel. In most people, this tunnel tends to be narrow even before inflammation occurs. As a result, even slight swelling can cause a pinched nerve. This swelling is very common and occurs mostly in people who frequently perform repetitive motions of the wrist and hand. Typing is one of the most common causes of this condition. Other causes may include writing, painting, driving, sewing, working on an assembly line, or the use of tools. It usually develops in adults between the ages of 30 and 60, and it is most common in women.

Carpal Tunnel Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome through physical examination and diagnostic tests. Physical exams can reveal numbness, pain, and weak grip, but tests such as wrist X-rays are normally conducted to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms such as arthritis. Other tests may include nerve conduction velocity or electromyography to check the condition of muscles and nerves in the hand and wrist.

Carpal Tunnel Treatments

In mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors recommend wearing a splint while sleeping. It may also be necessary to wear the splint during the day. Patients should avoid sleeping on their wrists, and changes at home and in the workplace may be necessary to reduce stress on the wrist. Necessary changes may include the use of special devices designed to minimize wrist strain or finding a new job or hobby. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin are commonly used to treat the pain and swelling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Surgery

When other treatment methods fail, patients may require carpal tunnel release. During this surgical procedure, the ligament that makes up the top of the carpal tunnel is cut. Surgery relieves pressure on the nerve and typically decreases pain and tingling. Physical therapy is often required to restore strength. The procedure is successful in the majority of patients. The exact outlook and recovery time vary from patient to patient depending on how badly damaged the median nerve is.