Get a Grip on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

December 04, 2020

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) may affect as many as 10 million people in the U.S., according to the American College of Rheumatology. For many, the symptoms are more than annoying – they can make some of the simplest tasks a struggle. Occurring when a corridor of bone and tissue in the wrist
called the carpal tunnel narrows and presses on the median nerve, CTS can cause numbness, pain or tingling in the hands.

“The median nerve operates a lot of the muscles in the palm a the base of the thumb, and it also provides sensation to the thumb, index and middle fingers, and part of the ring finger,” says Todd Anderson, MD, board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Huron Regional Medical Center. “As a result, people with CTS can have trouble with buttons and snaps on clothes, drop things of ten, or experience such severe numbness during sleep that it wakes them.” A variety of factors can increase your risk for CTS, including diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy and overuse of the wrist, especially in certain jobs.

Grabbing Control
If you think you might have CTS, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later – the longer you allow symptoms to linger, the tougher it is to reverse the effects, according to Dr. Anderson. He recommends speaking with your primary care provider or an orthopedic surgeon if symptoms last longer than a month. Often, a physical exam and description of symptoms is enough for a physician to diagnose CTS. In some cases, a nerve conduction study – a noninvasive test that measures how well electrical signals travel along the nerves – may be necessary. These studies are available from HRMC’s rehabilitation services team, which can also help manage CTS with stretching and strengthening exercises, among other methods. Surgery is rarely the first treatment for CTS, and rehab therapy is just one of several nonsurgical options.

“If CTS is related to an activity the patient is doing at work or home, the first thing we usually recommend is changing that activity to remove irritation of the wrist,” Dr. Anderson says. “Anti-inflammatory medications can help if CTS is related to an inflammatory condition. Patients also often benefit from wearing a splint on
the wrist, especially at night, to prevent over-flexing. A steroid injection into the carpal tunnel may provide shortterm relief.”

If conservative treatments don’t control symptoms, outpatient surgery may be appropriate. During the procedure, the surgeon releases the roof of the carpal tunnel to relieve pressure on the nerve. According to Dr. Anderson, most patients notice less numbness almost right away, but improvements in strength and pain level may take a little longer.

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Todd Anderson, MD,
orthopedic surgeon