Carpal tunnel is a condition that occurs when the median nerve that passes through the wrist is squeezed or compressed. The muscles that facilitate the movement of the thumb are controlled by the median nerve, which sends information back to the brain about sensations in your fingers. When the nerve is squeezed, it causes numbness, tingling and acute pain in the affected hand.
Although people of all ages can be affected by this condition, it is more common in individuals above 50 years. Proper treatment relieves you from numbness and tingling while restoring the normal function of your wrist and hand. In this article, we will be discussing everything you need to know about carpal tunnel and how it is treated.
Anything that squeezes or exerts pressure on the median nerve may cause carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve runs through a passageway in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. It sends nerve signals to the brain to facilitate the movement of the muscles located around the base of your thumb. When the nerve becomes irritated, it loses this functionality which is often replaced by a numbing and tingling sensation. A wrist fracture can exert pressure or narrow the carpal tunnel thus irritating the nerve. It can also be caused by inflammation and swelling that results from rheumatoid arthritis. Other risk factors include obesity, genetic history, diabetes, and vibrating tools.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel
Some of the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are tingling and numbness of the index, thumb and middle fingers. This sensation may come and go after some time causing discomfort in the palm of your hand as well as your wrist. The tingling and numbing may become constant if nothing is done to solve the issue beforehand. These symptoms occur when you are holding a newspaper, your phone or a steering wheel. Some people may try to relieve their sensations by shaking their hands.
Another symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is that you may experience a tendency of dropping items from your hand. This is usually caused by weakness of the pinching muscles in your thumb or the numbness in your hand.
How is Carpal Tunnel Treated?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often mistaken for other health conditions caused by arthritis. A nerve conduction test is usually done to determine how your nerve reacts to a small electric current channeled through your fingers. Although these tests do not measure the severity of your symptoms, they can show the extent of nerve damage. Although there are many treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, they work differently for everyone. Some of the treatment options for carpal tunnel include splints, drugs, and surgery.
If your symptoms worsen at night, your doctor will recommend a resting splint for you. If your condition is caused by certain activities, a working splint will be helpful, as it slightly pushes your palm back. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can recommend for you different types of splints based on the severity of your condition. Your physician may also recommend special wrist exercises that help prevent the median nerve from being stuck on nearby tendons.
In most cases, a small amount of steroid can be injected into the carpal tunnel to help reduce the swelling. Although you may feel uncomfortable during the injection, the effect usually wears off after some time. Your doctor can also recommend prescription drugs for you that can be used together with splints to facilitate quick recovery.
If your numbness or tingling sensation does not improve with other treatments, you may opt for surgery. Decompression surgery or carpal tunnel release helps relieve pain by minimizing the pressure on your median nerve. The operation may be done on keyhole surgery or by conventional open surgery under a local anesthetic. However, surgery should be considered as the last treatment option if there is severe compression on your median nerve.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can occur at any time and start to manifest slowly. People who work or engage in activities associated with extreme wrist motions, high force or constant vibration are at high risk of suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition may worsen if nothing is done to minimize its level of severity. If you seek early treatment, you will have a shorter time for recovery which allows you to get back to normal. Start with basic remedies such as splints or wrist braces and avoid any strenuous activities that exert a lot of pressure on your wrist.