Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome involves the swelling of the tendons in the wrist due to:

  • Heredity
  • Repetitive strain
  • Trauma

The swelling puts pressure on the nerve that travels to the hand. This causes numbness of the hand and fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes and risk factors

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, there is no single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Factors that often increase the risk include:

  • Genes — certain families and traits are more vulnerable to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gender — women are more likely than men to get this syndrome.
  • Age — repeated hand use with age and time can contribute to carpal tunnel.
  • Medical history — other health issues, such as arthritis, can increase your risk.

Along with these predisposing factors, other issues that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Hormonal levels
  • Circulation problems
  • Nerve damage

Complications of carpal tunnel syndrome

Without proper treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can make daily activities very tough, such as:

  • Buttoning clothing
  • Holding everyday items like a coffee cup
  • Typing
  • Writing

It can lead to a feeling of clumsiness. As the syndrome intensifies, there may be some visual deformities around the wrist tendons.

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for carpal tunnel treatment?

  • UPMC has one of the highest-funded orthopaedic research departments in the nation, with access to ongoing clinical trials, particularly useful for those with carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • We offer expert orthopaedic surgery services and treatments to people of all ages to help them get back to enjoying their lives.

Make an appointment for carpal tunnel syndrome care

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome often produces symptoms gradually or during specific activities, like typing or working. Over time, symptoms can present more frequently and for longer periods.

The most common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:

  • Numbness or stabbing to the thumb side of the hand that occurs gradually and worsens over time.
  • Tingling feelings throughout the wrist, hands, and fingers.
  • Shooting pains in the arms
  • Intense pain and discomfort in the thumb and three main fingers

At the beginning stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, shaking out the wrists may temporary help relieve symptoms.

As it progresses, you may need further treatment to manage your carpal tunnel pain and symptoms.

Carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis

Doctors diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome by looking at your medical history and testing the:

  • Strength of the thumb
  • Extent of numbness in the hand
  • Ability to use the hand

Carpal tunnel syndrome tests

Common tests for diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • X-rays to rule out bony deformities in the arms and wrists.
  • Nerve conduction tests to help identify the location and size of the nerve.
  • Electrical testing to gauge nerve functioning.

Make an appointment for carpal tunnel symptoms and care

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Surgery and Treatment Options

Treatment goals for carpal tunnel syndrome

Treatment for carpal tunnel primarily aims to avoid activities that irritate the wrist and hand.

Orthopaedic experts at UPMC may recommend periods of rest at first for relief.

Since the carpal tunnel syndrome worsens over time, further treatment methods seek to:

  • Manage pain.
  • Stop the progression of the nerve swelling.
  • Preserve and maximize function.

Treatment types for carpal tunnel syndrome

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, we offer nonsurgical and surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome relief.

Treatment plans often begin with nonsurgical methods, such as:

  • Wearing splints to reduce motion and support the nerve
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Rest
  • Activity modifications
  • Injections

Carpal tunnel syndrome repair surgery

If your symptoms persist even after nonsurgical treatments, your doctor may recommend carpal tunnel syndrome surgery.

Some common surgical treatments your doctor may choose, based on your symptoms and syndrome severity, may include:

  • Carving out a nerve's tunnel
  • Tendon and nerve lengthening
  • Ligament shortening

Benefits and risks of carpal tunnel syndrome treatment

Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, when implemented quickly, can be effective in preserving and even restoring function in the wrists, hands, and fingers.

It's also vital to make accommodations into your routine if you are predisposed to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Following any sort of surgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, you should expect:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Some bruising

Doctors may instruct you to:

  • Wear a brace for three to four weeks.
  • Elevate your hands.
  • Move or exercise your hands to increase circulation.

Failure to follow doctors' post-op orders can lead to further problems and related complications.

Make an appointment for carpal tunnel treatment

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

Learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome treatments

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UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

UPMC Patient Education Materials:

From our Health Library: