If you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome you may or may not require medical treatment. Sometimes the condition improves quickly on its own, however for some people it can cause persistent symptoms or permanent loss of feeling or strength in the hand and it’s important to receive proper medical treatment.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when the median nerve that passes through your wrist becomes compressed or squeezed as a result of a problem with the contents of the tunnel (e.g. inflammation) or the walls of the tunnel (e.g. ligament thickening or irregular wrist bones).
How do I know if I’ve got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome often tends to develop gradually over several weeks or months.
You may notice pins and needles, numbness, tingling and often pain or aching in the hand and wrist.
Sometimes the symptoms extend into the forearm or further up the arm as far as the shoulder or neck.
The thumb, index and middle fingers are normally worst affected and they may be particularly bad at night or first thing in the morning.
Certain people may be particularly prone to the condition including those who sustain a wrist injury, people who work with power tools or make repetitive hand or wrist movements, people who are obese and women going through pregnancy or the menopause. You can find more details about the symptoms, causes and diagnosis of the condition in our blog – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms.
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome
In mild cases, you may be able to relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by taking anti-inflammatories and wearing a wrist splint at night. This helps because the wrist can sometimes fall into an awkward positioning whilst sleeping, increasing pressure in the tunnel. The splint holds your wrist still while you sleep which helps to lessen symptoms, such as tingling and numbness. This reduction in symptoms often lasts even during the daytime and night-time splinting is often recommended as the first line of treatment for those who do not have permanent numbness and for people who are pregnant because it doesn’t involve taking medication. Injections of corticosteroids (cortisone) are also sometimes used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome This is especially useful for people in whom the cause is thought to be due an inflammation such as tendinitis or rheumatoid arthritis.
More severe cases, or those that have not responded to other treatments, may require surgery. Thames Shoulder and Elbow offers an operation called carpal tunnel decompression, which is a highly effective procedure providing effective and long-lasting relief from debilitating symptoms for the majority of patients.
Carpal tunnel decompression:
What to expect
Carpal tunnel decompression is performed as a day case procedure, so you can go home the same day. Most patients undergo decompression surgery under local anaesthetic although it can be performed using general anaesthetic if required. It involves making a small incision in the front of the wrist through which the surgeon can divide the roof of the carpal tunnel – the transverse carpal ligament. This creates more space within the carpal tunnel, thereby relieving pressure on the median nerve which helps to reduce or alleviate symptoms.
After surgery you will need to wear a bandage over the incision site for a few days followed by a small waterproof dressing to keep the area clean while it heals. You will be able to resume normal activities after around 10-12 days once any stitches have been removed.
We also offer a similar procedure for cubital tunnel syndrome, which is compression of the ulnar nerve (one of the main nerves in the arm) at the elbow. We will be covering this in a future blog.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome contact us for a specialist diagnosis and discussion of the most effective treatment options.
Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London
Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist). We can also offer consultations either online or face-to-face.
Telephone: 020 376 15987