The median nerve alongside several tendons run from the forearm to the hand through a narrow space in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel.
The median nerve controls both the feeling and the movement in the first three fingers as well as the thumb (excluding the little finger).
When there is constant pressure on the median nerve, it results to a condition called the carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pressure on the carpal tunnel can be attributed to swelling and a host of other things including:
- Other medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypothyroidism
- Repetitive hand movements
Treatment options for the condition can range from conservative options to carpal tunnel syndrome surgery.
Fortunately, majority of those who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, the right treatment can relieve the symptoms and even restore both hand and wrist function.
One of the most common symptoms of the condition is tingling and numbness that comes and goes.
Understandably, this can also result to discomfort in the hand and wrist.
Other prevalent symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Numbness and tingling – these symptoms will often manifest in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The sensations are often evident when holding the newspaper, phone, or the steering wheel. In some cases, the sensation will extend from the wrist to the arm. Most people experience relief from the numbness and tingling by shaking their hand. However, as the condition progresses, the numbness can become constant.
- Weakness –people with carpal tunnel syndrome can experience noticeable weakness in the hand affected. It may even cause them to drop objects they are holding. This can be attributed to the weakness or the numbness in the hand.
If symptoms of the condition start to interfere with the patient’s sleep and normal activities, seeing a doctor would be recommended.
Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can result to permanent muscle and nerve damage.
In essence, compression, irritation, and crowding of the median nerve can result to carpal tunnel syndrome.
For instance, a fracture in the wrist can end up irritating the median nerve and narrow down the carpal tunnel.
The inflammation and swelling brought about by conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can also cause the condition to manifest.
In most cases, no single cause is identified.
It is believed that a combination of risk factors contributes to the condition’s development.
Ideally, carpal tunnel syndrome should be treated the soonest possible time.
Resting the hand and applying cold packs can help minimize the swelling and ease the discomfort in mild cases.
However, if the aforementioned techniques do not provide the needed relief, other conservative treatments might be recommended, including:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – NSAIDs like ibuprofen (i.e. Motrin IB, Advil, etc.) have been known to alleviate pain associated with the condition. There’s still no evidence however that NSAIDs help improve the condition.
- Wrist splinting – to relieve nighttime numbness and tingling, nocturnal splinting has been known to help.
- Corticosteroids – to help ease pressure on the median nerve, corticosteroids might be recommended. Aside from helping relieve the pain, corticosteroids work by decreasing both the swelling and the inflammation.
If the symptoms persist after all the nonsurgical options have been exhausted, surgery is often the recommended option.
Two different techniques are used in carpal tunnel syndrome surgery:
- Open surgery – in open surgery, an incision is made in the palm over the carpal tunnel. The doctor will also cut through the ligament in order to free the nerve.
- Endoscopic surgery – this procedure involves using an endoscope (a telescope-like device that has a tiny camera attached to it) to cut the ligament through small incisions in the wrist or the hand.