Carpal tunnel syndrome, also referred to by many doctors and physicians as median nerve compression, is a common nerve condition that leads to pain, lack of sensation, and tingling in the arms and hand. The condition is normally caused when pressure is put on the median nerve in the hand. If symptoms are catered to early on, they can get better with the help of some measures. Although, if continued pressure is put on the nerves it can worsen symptoms and can even cause nerve damage. The carpal tunnel is a narrow tunnel in the wrist, which is formed by tiny wrist bones called carpal bones.
It is said by many doctors that if carpal tunnel syndrome is not treated early in most patients, it tends to get worse over time. Proper treatment can help relieve the symptoms significantly and restore wrist and hand function.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is amongst the most common nerve diseases in the United States and it affects up to 3-6% of adults in the general population each year.
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve. The median nerve extends from the forearm through the wrist to your hand via a passageway (carpal tunnel) providing sensation and feeling to your palm, thumb, and fingers, except the pinky finger. Anything that puts pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel space may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Many causes can lead to this irritation to the median nerve. A wrist fracture or rheumatoid arthritis can both lead to inflammation in the median nerve.
Much often than not, there is no single defined cause for the occurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome in an individual. A combination of risk factors and health concerns can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may include:
- Lack of sensation or irritation in the hand
- Pain in the hand
- Occasional shocks in the hand
- Pain that may travel up from hand to the shoulder
- Weakness and clumsiness
- Dropping things due to numbness
Your preventive care physician will conduct a physical exam to check the motor functions of your wrist muscles. They may conduct a carpal tunnel syndrome test, Tinel sign. The test will be conducted by tapping the palm of the hand. There may be a few other tests including:
- Imaging tests: MRI exams, X -rays, and ultrasounds can help your physician look at your bones and tissues that allow them to fully understand the extent of your condition.
- Electromyogram: The physician inserts a thin electrode into one of your wrist muscles to measure its motor function and activity.
- Nerve conduction studies: This is another form of carpal tunnel test in which the doctor tapes electrodes to the skin on your hand and arms to measure the nerve signals there.
The carpal tunnel syndrome treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms you are experiencing and how far your condition has progressed. You might need one or a combination of the following treatment options:
- Lifestyle changes: If you are indulging in an activity that requires constant hand motion, try to take breaks in between the activity to give yourself the required amount of rest.
- Immobilization: You may be asked to wear a splint, to reduce the mobilization of your hand to give the nerves in your hand, some rest. You might be asked to wear that splint at night, so you can sleep comfortably and rest your wrist muscles.
- Exercises: Working the muscles and nerves in a healthy manner can be extremely helpful. Exercises like nerve gliding can make the nerves in your hands and wrists move better.
- Medication: If you are experiencing symptoms like pain and swelling, your physician may prescribe you some anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids to curb the pain.
- Surgery: If none of the above-mentioned carpal tunnel syndrome treatments work, you may need to undergo a surgery known as carpal tunnel release which helps increase the size of the carpal tunnel and eases the pressure on the median nerve.
When to See a Doctor?
You may have to see a preventive care physician if the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are hindering your everyday daily activities, chores, and sleeping patterns. If you are experiencing symptoms and you leave them untreated you may get permanent nerve damage.
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