Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What is the carpal tunnel, and where is it located?
The carpal tunnel is an inflexible, narrow space located on the palm side of the wrist. The median nerve and tendons pass through this small space. A ligament forms the tunnel’s ceiling, while a collection of wrist bones form the other three sides.
To find your hand’s carpal tunnel, turn your hand so it’s facing you and bend your wrist. Your hand will come toward you. Your carpal tunnel is found in the area where your wrist bends.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Swelling can make the carpal tunnel space even tighter for the median nerve, and carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the nerve is pinched.
The pinched median nerve can result in numbness, tingling, pain, and occasional weakness in the hand because that nerve is responsible for sensory feedback from the palm side of the thumb, index, middle, and ring finger. It also controls several smaller muscles around the base of the thumb. If the median nerve is entrapped for long enough, it can become permanently damaged.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
We don’t always know exactly why carpal tunnel syndrome happens. Many times it can be a combination of reasons. Research tells us you are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome if you:
- Are female
- Are overweight or obese
- Are older than 40
- Are pregnant (from fluid retention)
- Had a wrist dislocation or fracture
- Have arthritis
- Have a thyroid condition
- Have diabetes
- Have a job that involves repetitive hand motion, grip, and wrist flexion
What are the common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
In the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms typically appear gradually and are inconsistent — they become worse with specific activities and get better with rest. In more advanced cases, symptoms are unrelenting. Common symptoms include:
- A burning sensation in the hand and fingers
- Grip weakness
- Dropping things
What are my treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Once it’s confirmed you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will explain all the treatment options that will be most successful for your unique situation. Together, you and your doctor will create an individualized treatment plan. The good news is that symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can often be relieved without surgery.
Your custom treatment plan may include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Cortisone injections to reduce swelling
What can I expect the results to be after treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Everyone responds to treatment differently. The primary focus is to reduce swelling in the wrist around the nerve and decrease the pressure placed on it. The goal of treatment is to decrease or eliminate your symptoms and get your function back.
How long does it take to recover from carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome varies widely in severity, and recovery time varies as well. Talk to your doctor about what you can expect with your specific situation. When surgery is recommended, it usually takes several months to get your strength back to normal.
Summit Orthopedics provides personalized hand and wrist expertise
The function of our hands is integrated through our wrists and arms to our shoulders; a problem anywhere along our arm may have a significant impact on hand function and quality of life. If you experience an injury or uncomfortable symptoms, our fellowship-trained hand and wrist surgeons are here to help. Summit physicians receive the highest levels of training and exclusively provide individualized care for conditions of the hand, wrist, and elbow.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
Most people know what carpal tunnel syndrome is, but its causes are widely misunderstood. Upper extremity surgeon Dr. Debra Parisi addresses misperceptions and explains how carpal tunnel is treated.
Ask the Expert: Hand Video Series