Symptoms, Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As the primary cause of more than two million visits to the doctor each year, carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common job-related injuries, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The median nerve travels from your forearm into your hand through a “tunnel” in your wrist. Part of the tunnel is made of the nine tendons that connect muscles to bones and bend your fingers and thumb. These tendons are covered with a lubricating membrane called synovium, which may enlarge and swell under some circumstances.

If the swelling is great enough, it may cause the median nerve to be pressed against this strong ligament. Some health considerations put people at greater risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Work that involves repetitive grasping of the hands or bending of the wrist seems to increase risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, but people who don’t work with their hands suffer from it too.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness or tingling in the hand, especially at night, clumsiness in handling objects, and/or pain going up the arm. Your orthopaedic surgeon may order a special test called an electromyogram (EMG) to help diagnose the condition.

Contrary to popular belief, extensive computer use is not believed to cause carpal tunnel syndrome; however, it can cause other repetitive strain injuries if proper ergonomic form is not used. Repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis of the wrists, hands and arms, have risen so quickly that they are being described as a workplace epidemic.

Wearing a splint or brace at night to keep your wrist from bending and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories taken orally are two mild treatment options. Cortisone injections may be recommended for more severe cases. In some instances of severe carpal tunnel syndrome, surgery may be the best bet. This surgery involves releasing or cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel, which relieves the pressure on the nerve. After surgery, relief may be immediate but can also take some time. Numbness may remain, along with some tenderness at the operative site. Rehabilitation hand exercises are likely to be prescribed to speed healing.