Are you having problems using your forearms? Does your wrist feel painful and weakened, making it harder for you to write or type words using your keyboard? If you experience these common symptoms, you may have a nerve condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition of a pressurized median nerve that runs through your forearms, proceeds through a pathway called carpal tunnel, and reaches your hand.
The main role of this nerve is to be responsible for the movement of all your fingers except your pinky. Furthermore, according to experts, women are three times more likely to have this syndrome compared to men because of their small carpal tunnels. If you want to find out more, you may ask your doctor about CTS and ask about the possible treatment options for your condition.
Symptoms Of CTS
Here are the following symptoms of CTS you’d want to observe:
You may feel this usually in your thumb, index, middle, and ring finger. There are also instances where you can feel a slight electric shock on your fingers.
These electric shocks may run through your wrist up to your arm, making it challenging for you to perform your regular activities. You may feel this symptom usually when you drive, use your phone, read a newspaper, and may wake you up from your sleep.
At some point, it may be difficult for you to hold and grab things properly. You may drop them occasionally, especially when the tingling starts. This is because of the numbness in your hand or the weakness of the fingers’ muscles, which are controlled by the median nerve.
Additionally, you may reduce the presence of these symptoms by shaking your hands. However, this might not be effective in a gradually severe condition. As CTS worsens, you’ll likely experience less grip control. Also, you might experience intense pain and cramps in your hands. Furthermore, worsening cases may lead to the following:
- Longer time required for your nerve impulses
- Reduced feel and control of your fingers
- Reduced coordination between your fingers
If these symptoms prevent you from doing your regular activities and reduce your quality of life, consider them a sign and set an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. This step is important to prevent permanent nerve damage, which mostly occurs for CTS patients who don’t seek immediate medical treatment.
Causes Of CTS
The primary cause of CTS is the pressure on the nerve within the carpal tunnel. Also, there’s no single cause for CTS. Any activity that promotes squeezing the median nerve may result in this syndrome, or a combination of different activities may encourage the formation of the condition.
Here are the common causes you might need to know about the syndrome:
- Activities like typing and other repetitive movements involving your wrists, especially if your hands are lower than your wrists, may contribute to the development of CTS
- Medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, hypothyroidism, or obesity may promote the occurrence of CTS
- Being pregnant
Treatment Options For CTS
Symptoms of CTS may gradually intensify over time, especially if you fail to have them checked as soon as possible. That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor to prevent the case from being severe.
The treatment options for CTS will depend on your doctor’s diagnosis. Usually, the first treatments your doctor will recommend are non-surgical, especially if the symptoms you’re experiencing are mild.
Non-surgical treatments are non-invasive medical solutions and may include the following:
As the symptoms may become more active at night and it may be difficult for you to sleep properly, your doctor may advise you to wear a brace or splint to prevent your wrist from bending during your sleep.
Bracing is crucial in preventing and reducing the pressure on your median nerve as it keeps your wrists in a neutral position. Furthermore, the equipment may reduce the symptoms while you perform your usual activities during the daytime.
Taking Over-The-Counter Medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium may help reduce the swelling and the pain. However, these drugs may not work for those who have severe conditions. If that’s your case, talk to your doctor immediately.
Changing Lifestyle And Habit
Since the primary contributors to CTS development are frequent and repetitive motions, changing your lifestyle and habit may prevent the symptoms from getting worse or reduce their occurrence. This is a must, especially for those who keep their wrists extended most of the time.
If you have activities that may worsen the symptoms, you may change these to slow down the condition’s progression. If your work mainly constitutes these activities, you may have to change your workplace and the process as well.
Performing Nerve-Gliding Exercises
Some exercises may help reduce the symptoms of CTS, so ask your doctor about them if they’re still applicable to you. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist to aid you in your condition.
Injecting Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Your doctor may inject a corticosteroid in your carpal tunnel to reduce the pain and swelling for some time. Furthermore, your doctor may also use this to help diagnose your case accurately. Remember, the effect of these injections is only temporary. Without addressing the root cause, some symptoms may show up after the injections’ effects.
These are all the non-surgical treatments your doctor will advise you as your first line of treatment. However, at some point, these treatments will no longer work. If that’s your case, your doctor may advise you to undergo surgical operations.
Also, the type of surgery your doctor will recommend, depending on the severity of your condition. The primary goal of CTS surgeries is to prevent further damages by removing the soft tissues pressing your median nerve. So, here are the surgical operations your doctor may introduce you:
The main surgery performed to address the root cause of CTS is called carpal tunnel release. This surgery can be done in two ways—open and endoscopic carpal tunnel release. However, both procedures share the same goal: to remove the ligaments that keep on pressing the median nerves inside the carpal tunnel.
These ligaments form a roof over your nerves and tendons, which inhibits their relaxed movements. Removing them will give the carpal tunnel additional space for your nerves and tendon.
Furthermore, carpal tunnel surgeries can be done easily with over 90% success rate and primarily outpatient. The surgery begins with the application of general anesthesia to put you to sleep. The doctor may also use local anesthesia to numb the affected area. After the usual preparation, the doctor may proceed with the surgery, which could be open or endoscopic.
As the name suggests, your doctor will open the palm of your hand with a small cut to have a clear view of the affected area. Then, your doctor will remove the ligament to free some space and reduce the pressure. However, these ligaments may grow back, but since there’s more space around the nerve, pressure will also be relieved.
Unlike the previous method, this surgical process only requires a small hole to insert the endoscope with a camera at the end. This equipment will serve as your doctor’s eye, and along with that, some cutting tools will also be inserted. These special tools will be used to remove the carpal ligaments.
Before your doctor decide which type of surgery to use, they’ll provide you with the benefits and risks both operations have, and they’ll discuss with you which is best for your condition.
Post-Surgery Effects To Observe
After the surgery, you may experience the following:
- Muscle soreness and weakness, which may take a few weeks to resolve
- Scar formations
- Injuries to the blood vessels and nerves
If you experience these symptoms after your surgery, call your doctor and check your condition. Usually, your doctor may advise you to avoid performing forceful hand and wrist activities to allow proper healing. The entire healing process may take a few months, but the skin may heal for a couple of weeks.
If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms presented above, it’d be best to have them checked by your doctor immediately. In this way, you’ll be able to prevent the condition from worsening. Also, your doctor may treat you firsthand with non-surgical treatments. However, if these treatments fail to work, you may need to revisit your doctor and see if you’re a candidate for surgery.
Before you proceed with the surgery, clarify all the pros and cons of the surgery, especially the possible complication after the procedure. This way, you’ll be prepared for what to expect, and if these complications show up, go to your doctor and have your case examined again.
Furthermore, the best course of action is to prevent it from occurring. Make sure to always keep your wrists straight and in proper position while working, take necessary breaks, and use supporting gears when needed.
Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s).
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