Taking Hold of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: 3 Common Questions Answered
What made carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) so difficult for Romain, a college student, was the extent to which psychological factors influenced this painful wrist condition.  Facing an important deadline, he found himself working for three days with little to no sleep. As stress mounted, pain started in his right wrist but eventually both arms were aching. Towards the end of this period, he found himself unable to type normally: “I would hold my hands above the keyboard and lower my arm until a finger touched the key.” 
He managed to finish, but the pain remained. Not only that, Romain realized that he was, unconsciously, conditioning himself to accept his CTS, quickly associating typing—and by extension his work—with pain. Luckily, he was able to get effective treatment; his academic and professional career depended on being able to type, so he had no choice. That said, his case is far from rare; according to Drs. Kim LeBlanc and Wayne Cestia, between three and six percent of American adults suffer with this condition. 
Since so many people work with their hands—whether on computers or in other capacities—it’s important to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
According to the National Institutes of Health, CTS arises when the median nerve that runs from the forearm to the hand gets pinched or constricted at the wrist.  This nerve is involved in sensation coming from the palm side of the thumb as well as the index, middle and a portion of the ring fingers. The name of the condition derives from the carpal tunnel, which houses this nerve, and cases are traced to a thickening or hardening of tendons in this region. This puts pressure on the median nerve.
It’s tough to pinpoint exact causes for CTS; often a combination of factors lead to constriction in the carpal tunnel. These include: 
- Injury to the affected wrist.
- Hyperactive pituitary gland.
- Underactive thyroid gland.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s also important to consider behaviors that can lead to CTS as well as risk factors:
- Mechanical stress from work.
- Frequent contact with vibrating machinery.
- Pregnancy or menopause.
- Tumor or cyst development.
- Diabetes or other metabolic disorders.
- Family history.
In diagnosis, doctors consider a wide variety of factors as well as specific symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms?
So what does CTS feel like? This is a condition that tends to set in gradually, and patients will experience worsening symptoms in untreated cases. These include burning, itching, tingling, and numbness in the palm, thumb, and fingers.  Interestingly, these symptoms tend to get worse at night and can disrupt sleep. They usually appear in the dominant hand, and as the condition progresses, people will feel like their grip is weakening, with tingling and other symptoms starting to arise during the day.
If you experience these or similar symptoms, be sure to seek out medical attention as soon as possible.
What Does Treatment Look Like?
Once this condition is diagnosed, treatment will depend on the severity of the case. While more extreme CTS requires surgery, some patients can find less-invasive approaches successful. These include:
- Splinting the wrist, especially overnight.
- The use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Regulating activities that might worsen the condition by taking breaks.
- Prescription pain and inflammation managing drugs.
- Alternative approaches like yoga, chiropractic work, or acupuncture may help.
There are two different types of surgery performed on CTS patients:
- Open Release Surgery: The more traditional approach, this involves cutting the carpal ligament to make the tunnel larger. This is done via a two-inch incision on the wrist, with the patient on local anesthesia.
- Endoscopic Surgery: A more recent approach that entails quicker and easier recovery, endoscopic surgery involves the use of two smaller incisions—each about a ½ inch—as well as special instruments to allow the surgeon to visualize and access the problem area. The goal is the same: to cut the carpal ligament and increase space.
Full recovery from symptoms after surgery may take a couple months, but the ligaments will be able to heal and reform in a manner that decreases CTS pressure. You’ll need to be careful about how you use the affected wrist during this time.
Getting a Grip
In the same way that you don’t want to let problems in your car get worse, or to put off home repairs, don’t wait to seek diagnosis and treatment if you think you have CTS. There’s no point in letting this condition ruin your days and nights. Romain eventually got there; “What a difference a couple months can make,” he writes, “I’ve reverted to working on my unergonomical laptop…I weight-lift, I run, I walk on my hands, you name it.”  Effective options are available; better, brighter, pain-free days are within your grasp.
If you believe you have CTS or another condition of the limbs, the team at Onward Orthopedics is ready to help. These experts employ the latest in techniques and technologies to provide effective treatments for a wide variety of patients. Learn more about what they do by calling (800) 577-1693 today!
- Success Story: How I Recovered From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome And Plantar Fasciitis”. 2018. Com. Accessed February 13 2018. http://www.rsipain.com/success-story-carpal-tunnel-syndrome-plantar-fasciitis.php.
- LeBlanc, Kim, and Wayne Cestia. 2011. “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome”. American Family Physician83 (8): 952-958. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0415/p952.h
- “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet | National Institute Of Neurological Disorders And Stroke”. 2018. Nih.Gov. Accessed February 13 2018. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet.