Carpal tunnel syndrome develops gradually and gets worse without treatment. Early treatment can help slow or stop the disease’s progression. So, how is carpal tunnel treated? Let’s answer your questions.
Persistent pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the hand and wrist can be worrying, especially if you don’t have a proper diagnosis. Many hand conditions may cause such symptoms; a common culprit is carpal tunnel syndrome. There are many options to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, from avoiding certain movements to invasive surgery. Remember that what may work for someone else may not necessarily work for you.
How is Carpal Tunnel Diagnosed?
There are many ways to diagnose carpal tunnel. Your doctor will first review your medical history looking for patterns of the symptoms. For instance, if the small finger is affected, that may point to another condition other than carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually occur when holding something like a steering wheel, phone or newspaper. The symptoms also occur at night; in severe cases, the pain may wake you during the night or have severe numbness when you wake up in the morning.
The doctor will then conduct a physical examination where they will test the feeling in your fingers and muscle strength. Bending the wrist, pressing the nerve or tapping at it can trigger symptoms in some people, so this is what your doctor will look out for.
Some doctors may also recommend X-rays of the affected hand to rule out other causes of wrist pain like fracture or arthritis. An ultrasound may also be recommended so the doctor can have a good view of the nerve and bones to determine whether the median nerve is being pressed.
Electromyography may also be performed. The test measures the electrical discharges in the wrist muscles to identify any damage to the median nerve and rule out other conditions. Another test that your doctor may recommend is the nerve conduction study. Two electrodes are taped to the skin, and shock passes through the median nerve to see if electrical impulses get slowed in the carpal tunnel.
How is Carpal Tunnel Treated?
Treat carpal tunnel syndrome as soon as you start experiencing symptoms. In the early stages, you can take certain measures to alleviate the symptoms and slow disease progression. They include:
- Taking short, frequent breaks to rest your hands and wrists
- Avoiding physical activities that make the symptoms worse
- Applying cold packs to manage the swelling
If that doesn’t help, the doctor may employ other non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Non-Surgical Carpal Tunnel Treatment
When the condition is diagnosed early, non-surgical treatment options may help improve the symptoms. They include:
- Wrist splinting: Wearing a carpal tunnel splint while sleeping can help relieve the symptoms of numbness and tingling. Wearing the splint even at night can help prevent daytime symptoms.
- Corticosteroids: The doctor may inject corticosteroid-like cortisone into the carpal tunnel to relieve pain. Corticosteroids help reduce swelling and inflammation, thus relieving pressure on the median nerve.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: NSAIDs like ibuprofen may help relieve the pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome in the short term.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome results from underlying conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory arthritis, treating arthritis may relieve the symptoms.
Surgery is usually an option if the symptoms become severe or the condition doesn’t respond to other non-invasive treatments. The major goal of carpal tunnel surgery is to help relieve the pressure on the nerve by cutting the ligament pressing on the nerve. There are two different techniques:
- Endoscopic surgery: The surgeon uses a tiny camera attached to a telescope-like device to view the inside of your carpal tunnel. The surgeon then cuts the ligament through one or two small incisions. Some surgeon use ultrasound to guide the tools. Endoscopic surgery is less invasive, and therefore, one takes a shorter time to recover.
- Open surgery: The surgeon makes an incision in the palm of your hand to expose the ligaments. They will then cut the ligament to free the median nerve.
What are the Possible Risks and Complications of Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
It’s up to you to discuss the risks and benefits with your surgeon before the surgery. They include:
- Wound infections
- Incomplete ligament release
- Injuries to the surrounding nerves and blood vessels
- Scar formation
During carpal tunnel surgery recovery, the ligament tissues grow back gradually, which allows more room for the median nerve. Healing can take several months, although the skin heals within a few weeks. You will likely work alongside a hand therapist to help regain strength and mobility in the affected area. Weakness, tingling and numbness may take several weeks to a few months to completely resolve. If your symptoms are so severe, they may never go away completely, even after surgery.
If you have carpal tunnel symptoms and think you may have the condition, get in touch with a specialist at the Harley Clinic in London.
If you want to learn more about cosmetic procedures in the UK, consider going through our latest plastic surgery statistics guide.