By Christopher K. Taleghani, M.D.
Swelling or other irritation of the carpal tunnel causes compression of the median nerve, which is what we refer to specifically as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The most common culprit is overuse and repetition. Those who use their wrists and hands for repetitive work are likely to cause swelling and stress on the carpel tunnel. If preventative measures do not work, a Carpal Tunnel Release surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed by a neurosurgeon.
What Is It? What Causes It?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome takes place in the wrist. The small space between the wrist bone and the muscle tissue is called The Carpal Tunnel. The main nerve that passes through this small canal is called the median nerve, which controls feeling and sensation in the hand. The median nerve runs the length of the forearm into the hand and controls sensation in the palm, thumb and forefinger side of the hand. Swelling or other irritation of the carpal tunnel causes compression of the median nerve, which is what we refer to specifically as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
There are various things that can cause inflammation in the carpal tunnel and lead to greater issues. Preexisting injuries or fractures may be a contributing factor as excess swelling in the area may affect the wrist. Lifestyle or other health conditions may also be the perpetrator. Individuals with diabetes, arthritis, hyperthyroidism as well as those who are pregnant or obese may experience a higher chance of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The most common culprit, however, is overuse and repetition. Those who use their wrists and hands for repetitive work such as carpenters, assembly line workers, musicians and those who work long hours at computers are likely to cause swelling and stress on the carpel tunnel.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
Compression in the median nerve may affect the palm, thumb, middle and index fingers. Any sort of prolonged tingling or numbness in this area can be the first indication that there is an issue. Often burning or itching in the palm can accompany these symptoms, and weakness can also occur as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome digresses. Many people lose a great deal of grip strength and are unable to carry out every day functions such as gripping a door handle or typing on a computer.
What Can I Do?
At the first sign of any symptoms, it is important to see your neurosurgeon and try a few preventative measures. If your job is repetitive, plan several work breaks during the day in which you can rest your wrist in a neutral position. If there is any indication of swelling, icing the wrist during these breaks is also a great idea. If time limits hourly breaks, one could try a temporary splint or brace to wear in order to relieve stress on the fibrous tissue around the carpal tunnel. Your neurosurgeon can also provide you with suggestions for strengthening exercises and stretches to alleviate pain.
If these treatment options do not work, surgery may be the next step. This surgery is called a Carpal Tunnel Release and is one of the most common surgical procedures performed by a neurosurgeon. While there are a few different techniques, this surgery involves cutting one or more of the ligaments to relieve pressure around the carpal tunnel to decompress the median nerve. It is a fairly quick surgery and, in normal cases, patients experience a full recovery within several weeks. During those weeks, it is important to continue to limit use and do the strengthening exercises provided.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be a pain, but with the training and expertise of a neurosurgeon can be a quick and easy recovery!
Chris Taleghani, M.D., M.B.A.
Dr. Taleghani is a board certified neurosurgeon who specializes in minimally invasive surgery and complex spine and brain conditions. He received his Medical Degree at Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his Neurosurgery Residency training at Pennsylvania State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.