There are many carpal tunnel treatment options available to help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome refers to what happens when the carpal tunnel that leads from the wrist to the hand narrows, putting pressure on the median nerve and collection of tendons that runs through the tunnel.
When the tissues surrounding the tunnel become inflamed or swollen, the nerve loses space, causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as pain, numbness, tingling and a loss in the ability to grip things. Symptoms are often worse at night and may become worse due to sleep positions that put weight on the carpal tunnel, but they can also be felt during the day during common activities such as driving or reading the newspaper.
Carpal tunnel is commonly associated with certain professions, and those who perform certain repetitive tasks have been found to be at a higher risk than others. However, carpal tunnel often has several causes, including injuries and other health conditions, and in some cases may have no obvious cause at all or several different causes.
Carpal Tunnel Treatment Options
Carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed by taking account of your medical history including previous and existing medical conditions, how you use your hands and any injuries. Your doctor will ask you to perform various actions as tests and may also recommend an X-ray, lab tests and/or electromagnetic imaging to make an official diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will provide you with carpal tunnel treatment options. Depending on the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome and how far it has progressed, carpal tunnel treatment options include both nonsurgical and surgical solutions.
Nonsurgical carpal tunnel treatment options include splinting, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections. If the carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t improve or is further advanced, then surgery is a prevalent carpal tunnel treatment option.
Splinting calls for wearing a splint on the affected wrist (or wrists), usually only at night, in order to keep the wrist still. In some cases, a splint may also be worn when performing certain tasks. It can also help to rest the hands if they become uncomfortable during use, and applying ice packs can help to reduce redness and swelling.
Over the counter drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other pain relievers can alleviate minor pain and discomfort that results from carpal tunnel syndrome. Unlike other carpal tunnel treatment options, taking these types of drugs doesn’t treat the condition itself.
Prescription medications, such as cortisone and lidocaine, can be injected directly in the wrist. Some medications, like prednisone, can be taken orally. Prescription drugs like cortisone injections are carpal tunnel treatment options that work well for mild symptoms or those that come and go.
If nonsurgical carpal tunnel treatment options fail to prevent relief, then carpal tunnel surgery will likely be recommended. Carpal tunnel surgery, also known as carpal tunnel release, is a very common surgery. In most cases, it is a simple outpatient procedure that severs a tendon surrounding the carpal tunnel in order to alleviate pressure from the median nerve. Surgery is among the most successful carpal tunnel treatment options for providing lasting relief from symptoms.
Overview of Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Before undergoing carpal tunnel surgery, be sure to advise your doctor of any medications, supplements and conditions that you may have. You will likely be told to stop taking certain drugs, including aspirin, ibuprofen and other blood thinners, which can interfere with the surgery and recovery. Your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions about preparing for the procedure, including not eating for 6-12 hours prior to surgery. You should also arrange for someone to drive you to and from the procedure.
Carpal tunnel surgery uses local or regional anesthesia but does not require an overnight hospital stay and typically takes under an hour to perform. Usually, both hands require carpal tunnel surgery, but only one hand is done at a time. There are two different methods of carpal tunnel surgery: open surgery and endoscopic surgery. Both sever a ligament but require different incisions.
Open surgery is the traditional approach. An incision of about two inches is placed in the wrist connecting into the hand in order to access the carpal tunnel and enlarge it. This is usually done under local anesthetic unless there are other medical conditions.
Endoscopic surgery offers the hope of a faster recovery and function but also has a higher risk for complications and additional surgery. Your doctor will make one or two half-inch incisions and then insert a small tube with a camera to guide them to the carpal ligament. A small knife placed through the tube is then used to sever the ligament.
After the surgery, the ligaments will grow back together but allow more space for the nerve than before. Symptoms may be alleviated quickly, but full recovery usually takes up to several months. Difficulty gripping is common after surgery but will return in time. A bandage or splint will be applied to the incision, and you may require physical therapy to recover. In some cases, it can take up to four weeks to recover fuller function.
Carpal tunnel treatment options are tailored to your individual needs. Your carpal tunnel doctor will discuss them with you and provide detailed advice and tips to aid your recovery process should you need surgery after less-invasive options have been explored.