Pain, numbness or tingling in the hand or wrist joint can compromise the quality of daily life, especially if they are persistent. These symptoms can be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects between 4 and 10 million Americans and ranks as one of the most common disorders of the nerves, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).
If you have hand or wrist joint pain, it's helpful to understand carpal tunnel syndrome causes and treatments. Often those who may have this condition worry that surgical procedures are the only option to relieve the pain. Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome is typically a very treatable condition, and can often be effectively treated without surgery.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
To understand what carpal tunnel syndrome is, it helps to learn a little about the anatomy affected. The carpal tunnel is a channel inside the wrist that is approximately an inch wide and surrounded by small bones — called carpal bones — on the bottom and sides, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Atop the channel runs the transverse carpal ligament, which is strong connective tissue. These boundaries don't allow for much give or stretch.
Both the median nerve and flexor tendons run through the carpal tunnel. When the tunnel narrows or tissues around the tendons swell, placing pressure on the median nerve, which is one of the hand's main nerves. This is what causes the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms that affect the hand and arm and include:
The condition may impact the strength, sensation and functional ability of the hand, according to ACR. You might feel weak in the hands, a lack of feeling or be unable to use your full range of motion. That might effect common everyday chores, work or recreational activities.
Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome
Some conditions — including arthritis, tendonitis and other nerve disorders — share symptoms with carpal tunnel syndrome. A fellowship-trained orthopedic doctor can assess your health to determine whether carpal tunnel is truly the issue.
Some tools that a doctor may use to evaluate your condition include:
- Physical examination
- Electrical testing
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Women and older people are more commonly affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. Other risk factors may include:
- Repetitive hand motions
- Hand and wrist position over time
- Other health conditions
Your doctor may determine your carpal tunnel syndrome is connected to other health issues, such as diabetes, arthritis or thyroid conditions. If there is an associated condition, a specialist should also work to address that in order to acheive the best success with alleviating your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome
So, once you receive a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, how can you find relief? Some common treatments include:
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help. Splinting the affected wrist — sometimes overnight — can help alleviate pressure on the median nerve. These kind of treatments might suffice in cases of milder carpal tunnel syndrome.
Cortisone shots can also be effective for pain management if other medications don't do the trick.
Finally, in cases where pain persists despite first-line treatments, orthopedic surgery may be an option. A carpal tunnel release procedure can help alleviate pressure on the median nerve. Surgery would likely only be considered when other treatments fail.
If your daily life and things you love to do are compromised by carpal tunnel syndrome, causes and treatments can be identified by orthopedic specialist. Don't continue to suffer with any kind of joint pain unnecessarily and get back to the life you love.