To understand this condition, it’s important to explain what the carpal tunnel is. Quoting directly from the University of Navarra Clinic, the carpal tunnel “is a canal or passageway on the anterior or flexor side of the wrist, located between the wrist bones and the carpal annular ligament, through which the flexor tendons of the fingers and the median nerve pass.”
When there is pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist, resulting in significant pain, we are dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s a condition in which the median nerve is compressed due to excessive pressure on it.
This is the nerve in the wrist that provides sensation and movement to parts of the hand. Prolonged and constant compression of the median nerve leads to the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers).
There are so many tendons that pass through this canal that the median nerve has very little space in its central zone. If for any reason this space decreases even further, the pressure inside increases, resulting in the compression of the median nerve.
Pregnant women and individuals with diabetes, hypothyroidism, amyloidosis, or rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk of injury. Also, people whose work involves repetitive and forceful wrist movements, such as using a screwdriver, are at risk of developing this disorder. Another risk factor is improper keyboard placement on a computer.
What Are Its Symptoms?
The symptoms that characterize Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are:
The syndrome starts slowly. Initially, discomfort is felt as tingling (paresthesia) and numbness in the hand, along with pain in the wrist and hand, which occurs intermittently and is more pronounced at night or upon waking.
Later on, there may be a decrease in sensation in the hand, specifically in the distal part of the radial portion of the palm and the palmar side of the fingers, from the first to the third, and the radial half of the fourth finger.
As Carpal Tunnel Syndrome progresses to a moderate degree, there may be clumsiness and weakness in the hand, leading to dropping objects.
Initially, sensory symptoms of the syndrome (tingling, numbness in the thumb, index finger, and middle finger) appear, followed later by motor symptoms (loss of strength and muscle tone in the hand) that gradually add to the condition.
When to See a Doctor?
The pressure that compresses the median nerve creates recurrent symptoms that can become an intolerable health problem over time. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can lead to permanent damage when not treated promptly. Therefore, if you experience any numbness, cramps, tingling, weakness, or pain in your hands, fingers, or wrists, it is essential to visit an orthopedist to assess the problem and initiate treatment before the nerve risks irreversible injury.
Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Effective treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome should be sought as soon as the first symptoms appear. Initially, you can try home care such as:
If symptoms do not improve after a few months or if you begin to notice numbness in your hands, it’s time to seek medical attention. The specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
The doctor may prescribe oral anti-inflammatory medications to reduce nerve pressure and temporarily alleviate the pain caused by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Local corticosteroid injections are also useful for reducing inflammation in the median nerve and improving pain sensation.
Surgical treatment may be a solution when Carpal Tunnel Syndrome symptoms are persistent and do not respond to conservative treatment. In this case, carpal tunnel release surgery is performed to cut the carpal ligament that puts pressure on the median nerve. After the surgery, the symptoms gradually disappear.
Recommendations for Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can result from a combination of various factors. To prevent its onset, the following measures can be implemented to reduce tension in this area:
How is it diagnosed?
After clinical suspicion, an examination of the sensitivity and strength of the hand should be performed. A neurophysiological study consisting of electromyography (EMG) and a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) study is usually requested.
In those cases in which an associated disease is identified, appropriate treatment must be instituted. To indicate the correct treatment, it is essential to attend a trauma specialist to diagnose and treat the root problem.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can occur due to a combination of multiple factors. The most common causes include:
Pressure on the Median Nerve
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when there is excessive pressure on the median nerve, which extends from the forearm to the hand through a narrow tunnel within the wrist.
Injuries such as sprains, fractures, or other wrist injuries can cause inflammation and compression of the median nerve, leading to the development of the syndrome.
Underlying Health Conditions
Certain health conditions (such as arthritis) can cause inflammation in the wrist, leading to additional pressure on the median nerve and triggering the syndrome.
In some cases, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may have a genetic predisposition, meaning that certain individuals are born with a higher likelihood of developing it.
Repetitive hand and wrist movements, such as constant typing or prolonged use of manual tools, can contribute to the development of the syndrome.
Frequently Asked Questions
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a common condition that can be effectively managed with the financial assistance of health insurance. However, it’s important to note that not all insurers offer extensive coverage, so we advise consulting with your insurance advisor to determine whether your policy includes partial or full coverage for carpal tunnel syndrome treatment.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome does not resolve on its own and requires appropriate treatment to address the root cause. When the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are left untreated, it can lead to serious consequences. We are dealing with a condition that can progress and cause permanent damage to the median nerve, resulting in nerve dysfunction, loss of movement, and loss of sensation in the hand.
A nerve-related condition like carpal tunnel syndrome will always require some form of treatment. Patients with an early diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome have a better chance of recovery with simple or “home” treatments such as rest, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and using wrist splints. However, as the disease progresses significantly, other medical alternatives, whether conservative or surgical, become essential to alleviate nerve compression.