Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition that affects the median nerve in the wrist, causing swelling and inflammation that can lead to severe pain. When the median nerve within the wrist is compressed, it can result in tingling and numbness, and if left untreated, it can disable wrist movement.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The median nerve runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, and is responsible for controlling the sensations in the fingers as well as the impulses to muscles that facilitate finger movement. It is housed by a narrow ligament and bone at the base of the hand. When the median nerve is compressed, the nerve can become swollen, causing pain and numbness in the hand.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

There are a few things that can cause compression on the median nerve in the wrist. Anything that could potentially crowd, irritate or put pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel area can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Factors that can cause swelling or inflammation are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fluid retention
  • Work stress
  • Repetitive motion of the arm or hand
  • Sprains or fractures
  • Overactive pituitary gland
  • Wrist joint mobility issues
  • Continual use of vibrating hand tools
  • Cysts or tumors in the carpal tunnel area

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

The symptoms of CTS can start out mild and as a mere occasional annoyance. You may experience:

  • The feeling of swollen fingers, despite any noticeable swelling
  • Numbness, pain, burning, itching or tingling in the palm and fingers
  • Symptoms occurring mainly at night

As symptoms progress, you may experience:

  • Difficulty with wrist and hand strength when making a fist or grasping
  • More frequent tingling and pain especially during the day
  • If left untreated, muscle deterioration in the hand

Are there people who are more at risk than others?

There are a number of factors that are known to play a role in the development of CTS. Although they are not the direct cause, they can increase your risk of median nerve inflammation. These include:

  • Gender – Because women typically have smaller carpal tunnels, they are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men.
  • Occupation – Working with tools that vibrate for prolonged amounts of time can place excessive pressure on the median nerve.
  • Injury – A fracture or dislocation that changes the carpal tunnel can irritate the nerve.
  • Inflammatory illnesses – Conditions that cause inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis can exacerbate CTS symptoms.
  • Pregnancy or menopause – Pregnancy or menopause can alter the way your body balances certain fluids and can increase fluid retention, which may cause compression on the median nerve.
  • Other medical conditions – Obesity, thyroid disorders, diabetes, kidney failure and diabetes can cause nerve damage or excess pressure on the nerves.

Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome

Your doctor will start by using diagnostic tests and questions to determine if you are suffering from CTS, including:

  • Examination of symptoms – Your doctor will analyze the history of your symptoms based on when and where they occur, and how often.
  • Physical exam – Testing the sensations and strength in the muscles of your fingers helps your doctor determine the severity of your case.
  • Electromyogram – This is a test your doctor can perform to evaluate the electrical activity of your muscles when contracting and at rest, which helps determine if any muscle damage is present.
  • X-rays – An X-ray exam helps rule out any other reasons why you may be feeling pain, like a sprain or fracture.

How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

CTS should be treated as early as possible for optimal success. Depending on the severity of the case, there are a few ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • Non-surgical treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, wrist splinting, corticosteroids and exercise.
  • Surgical treatment for CTS is a very common endoscopic outpatient procedure, which is performed under local anesthesia. It resolves the nerve compression and results in very little scarring or postsurgical pain.

If you’ve been experiencing tingling or burning sensations in your wrist or fingers, it may be time to contact a professional. Make your appointment today with the experts at Spine Surgery of Idaho by calling (208) 522-6930.