Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition that impacts the wrist nerve causing painful symptoms, muscle wastage and potential long-term damage.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Orthopaedics Infoline

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What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common wrist condition caused by an increased pressure on the main wrist nerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel. This narrow passageway is shared with many other tendons, but if it becomes irritated or inflamed for any reason, the available space decreases in size and compresses the median nerve. This causes painful symptoms such as tingling, pins and needles, pain, muscle weakness and numbness. If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to long term and irreversible damage. The cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is thought to be from a combination of factors such as the swelling caused by arthritis, changes brought about by pregnancy, wrist injury or overuse. Women and adults over 40 are at a higher risk of developing carpel tunnel syndrome.

How is it treated?

Your doctor will firstly diagnose the condition, and ensure the symptoms are not related to anything else that could pressure the nerve such as a ligament tear, arthritis or tendonitis. Carpal tunnel syndrome is always treated conservatively in the early stages using rest, ice, hand splints and physiotherapy, along with carpal tunnel hand exercises. A combination of all these treatments is most effective in slowing the onset of the condition. Your doctor may suggest steroid injections to reduce the swelling. In severe cases, or where conservative treatments are no longer effective, your doctor may suggest carpal tunnel release surgery as a way to reduce pain, restore wrist stability and prevent long term damage. During the surgery, the roof of the carpal tunnel is cut to relieve pressure on the nerve. The ligaments heal back together more loosely and the median nerve can travel through the carpal tunnel without additional pressure.

How long does it last?

Once the pain and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome emerge, they are unlikely to go away on their own. If left untreated, it could lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage. In mild cases, resting your hand and wearing a splint at night may be enough to ease the symptoms. In more severe cases where surgery is required, the internal healing can take several months but is likely to be effective. Once the ligament has healed, hand exercises will gradually restore strength and normal use. In the most extreme cases or where treatment has been delayed, some symptoms may remain after surgery.

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