Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful neurological disorder which affects the forearm and the hand. It is caused by excess pressure on the nerves which run along the wrist. The condition often presents with the following symptoms;
- Feelings of tingling, or numbness in the palm, often described as ‘pins and needles’.
- Pain which is located in the wrist and hand. Some patients find their pain radiates up their arm towards their elbow or down to their fingers.
- A loss of grip strength, often accompanied by feelings of weakness which make simple tasks such as holding small objects difficult.
- A sensation of swollen fingers, despite fingers actually looking normal in size.
Patients often find that their symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are much more exaggerated at night. This is especially true for those who sleep with their wrists flexed and their palms bending down towards their forearms. Often it is the dominant hand which initially develops symptoms; however, both hands can be affected at the same time. If the condition is left untreated, the pressure on the median nerve can lead to the muscles at the base of the thumb to waste away.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
To reduce the amount of long-term damage to the median nerve, it is important to recognise the symptoms and diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome early on. Along with the symptoms, to diagnose the condition a doctor may;
- Physically examine your hands, arms, shoulders and neck to assess whether the symptoms are related to another underlying condition or to any daily activities you partake in. The doctor may also ask you to place your hands or fingers in specific positions to purposely bring on symptoms.
- Check your wrists for signs of swelling, tenderness or discolouration.
- Check the sensation in each of your fingers.
- Check the muscles which are found below your palm for their strength and to see whether any muscles have wasted.
Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
It is estimated that one-third of carpal tunnel syndrome patients recover from the condition without specific medical treatment. Those who have more severe and painful symptoms are recommended to undertake the following treatment methods;
- Avoid activities which aggravate symptoms for a minimum of two weeks.
- Apply a cool pack to provide relief to any swelling.
- Wear a hand brace or a splint when sleeping to prevent the wrist from being bent.
- Elevate the affected hand and forearm during sleep to relieve symptoms.
- Take anti-inflammatory medicines for pain relief and to reduce the amount of swelling and inflammation.
- Take corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. These can be taken orally in tablet form or via an injection directly to the wrist.
If the symptoms continue despite all of the above treatment methods, surgery is the final option. A procedure known as ‘surgical release’ is carried out by cutting the carpal ligament. This, in turn, releases the pressure on the median nerve. Many patients find they get immediate relief following the surgery; however, physical therapy exercises are advised for a full recovery.
If you think you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, we recommend that you consult your doctor for more information.