What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is located on the palmar side of the hand, the median nerve and the tendons that bend the fingers run through the tunnel. If the space within the tunnel is reduced, this causes pressure on the median nerve and can cause symptoms such as pins and needles or reduced sensitivity in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and sometimes the ring finger. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be experienced in one or both hands.

Research has shown that carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women than men and in most people there is no particular cause for carpal tunnel syndrome. There are some conditions which can increase the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome such as pregnancy, thyroid dysfunction, wrist injuries, arthritis and diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

The predominant symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are tingling sensations in the thumb, index and middle fingers or numbness in the same digits, which may lead to dropping objects.

These symptoms can progress to wrist pain, weakness in the hand muscles, and a burning feeling which travels up the arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome commonly causes symptoms at night causing people to wake from sleep.

What are the treatment options?

Doctors typically diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome by thoroughly reviewing your medical history and undertaking a physical examination to assess the signs and function of the hand and wrist.

If the symptoms and signs are not completely typical, nerve conduction studies can be requested to formally assess the function of the nerve and confirm the diagnosis.

The chosen treatment path will vary according to the nature of the individual's condition, taking into account symptoms, and their severity.

Non-surgical methods can be advised, such as; treatment of the underlying conditions which can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, avoiding certain causal activities, wearing wrist splints (these can be particularly effective at night); medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain; and steroid injections to address inflammation.

Will I need surgery?

When non-surgical methods of treatment have proven ineffective, or in cases of severe median nerve compression, surgery may be recommended. The procedure involves making a small cut in the palm and cutting the tight tissue that crosses the wrist and forms the roof of the carpal tunnel.

This reduces the pressure on the nerve and commonly improves the symptoms being experienced by the patient. Factors such as patient age and the duration for which the condition has been experienced can contribute to whether a successful outcome is achieved.

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