We sat down and interviewed Hand Surgeon, Dr. Amrish Patel about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome describes the symptoms which arise from compression of one of the major nerves of the arm, called the median nerve, as it passes through wrist. The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome most commonly involve numbness and tingling of the thumb, index and middle fingers. These symptoms usually begin at night and will wake people up. They can also arise from holding your hand in one position for a long time. Most commonly these situations include talking on the phone or holding a steering wheel. As time passes and the syndrome becomes more advanced, it can begin to affect your muscles as well as your sensation. You may begin to feel weakness or clumsiness in your hands, particularly when manipulating small objects such as buttons or coins. You may notice your handwriting has changed. When this weakness becomes more pronounced, you may notice that your hands look different as the muscles in your palm shrink away.
Why does carpal tunnel syndrome happen?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs because of pressure on the median nerve. This can happen for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is positioning during sleep. Most people sleep with their hands in fists and their wrists bent. This puts pressure on the median nerve which causes it to become irritated. This manifests itself as numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers which wakes you up at night. Swelling around the tendons in the carpal tunnel can also cause the nerve to become compressed. Additionally, the ligament itself can become enlarged and cause compression of the nerve.
Can my job cause carpal tunnel syndrome?
There have been studies trying to establish a connection between repetitive movements, especially typing, and carpal tunnel syndrome. At the very worst, there is no correlation. in fact some data does seem to point that lots of typing may decrease your risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Positioning can cause or worsen carpal tunnel syndrome. Ergonomics in the workplace are important. You should evaluate your own work space and see if a different position or style of keyboard or mouse may help your symptoms.
Do I really need to see a doctor?
If you think you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you should be evaluated by a health care professional. I will go into treatment options in the next section, but there is such a thing as waiting too long or being too late. I see many patients who have done just that and have permanent, or irreversible, nerve damage.
How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?
There are a variety of treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome depending on the severity of your symptoms. Treatment ranges from wrist braces while you sleep, to steroid injections, to surgery. Your doctor will best be able to help you decide whether you need treatment and which would be best suited for you.
What is the recovery from carpal tunnel surgery?
Approaches to recovery vary. Some surgeons will keep your wrist immobilized for some time following the surgery. I prefer a smaller dressing and allow it to be removed after 3 days. After that point, I allow my patients to try to use their hand normally. They may shower and wash their hands. I ask them to avoid heavy activity until they have their stitches removed at 2 weeks. It may take 6 weeks until you feel comfortable with heavier activity such as athletics.