Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Overview

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes tingling and pain in the thumb and hands. People may experience carpal tunnel syndrome when they use their hands frequently for repeated motion or movements that put heavy stress on the wrists.

Carpal tunnel syndrome results when the carpal tunnel – a passageway that carries nerves into the hands – becomes compressed. This tightening makes it hard for the nerves to work as they should.

In its early stages, it’s possible to treat carpal tunnel symptoms without surgery. If you do need carpal tunnel surgery, it’s good to know that Aurora Health Care was one of the first in the region to offer minimally invasive surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. This type of surgery offers less scarring and quicker recovery times – so you can feel better and get back to the things you love faster.

The Aurora Difference

Advanced Care for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Relief

Aurora offers a wide range of carpal tunnel syndrome treatments that aren’t available everywhere, from minimally invasive surgery to specialized physical and occupational therapy.

People choose Aurora because we offer:

  • Minimally invasive carpal tunnel surgery: We were among the first in Wisconsin to offer carpal tunnel endoscopy. This procedure uses tiny surgical tools inserted through small incisions. Learn more about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
  • Hand therapy experts: Our certified hand therapists are physical therapists or occupational therapists who have thousands of hours of experience improving people’s hand function and comfort – with or without surgery. Learn more about hand therapy.
  • Occupational therapy on-site: Occupational therapists work right alongside our hand surgeons in many of our clinics. This means your doctor and therapist can both talk with you about custom-fitted splints, exercises and other treatment options.
  • Convenient care in Milwaukee and beyond: The Aurora Hand Service Program provides specialized care for conditions involving the hand or arm, from fingertips to shoulder, including carpal tunnel syndrome and its effects. For more information, contact us.

Symptoms & Causes

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The most common carpal tunnel symptoms are numbness, tingling, burning or itching in the palm, fingers and thumb.

People also experience:

  • Worsening of symptoms at night
  • Waking up with pins and needles or a need to shake out the wrist or hand
  • Pain that travels up the arm
  • Hands that get weaker (decreased grip strength)
  • Less sensitivity to hot and cold by touch

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a group of bones, ligaments and tendons located on the palm side of your wrist. Repetitive hand movements can cause the tendons in the wrist to swell. The swollen tendons squeeze the nerves in the region, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Learn more about nerve care.

Most people think of office workers when they think of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, people who work with their hands – assembly line workers, musicians and heavy laborers – also are at risk for carpal tunnel symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatoid pannus), diabetes and endocrinology conditions like hypothyroidism may raise the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Smoking raises the risk, too, because it can raise blood pressure, reduce blood flow and change the effects of medications. People who don’t smoke or smoke less have fewer complications from surgery.

Diagnosis

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a medical exam and a few simple in-office tests to study the way your hand and wrist are working. It’s helpful if you can tell us how long you’ve had carpal tunnel symptoms and when they occur.

Most of the time, we diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome through a physical exam. We’ll order additional tests like X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if we need more information. These tests help us look for fractures, arthritis or other complications.

In some cases, we order electrodiagnostic tests like electromyography (EMG) to check your nerve pathways. These tests measure how nerve messages travel in your body.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Treatment

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment: What Are the Options?

At Aurora, we provide a variety of treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome. The first treatments are nonsurgical, but we provide advanced surgery, too. After assessing your condition, we’ll work with you to create a treatment plan.

Nonsurgical Therapies for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As a first option, we’ll discuss nonsurgical carpal tunnel treatments. Some people feel better with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, changes in activity and heat or ice.

Other people benefit from treatments like:

  • Bracing or splints: Carpal tunnel braces can bring relief and let your wrist heal. Your care team will help you decide between a ready-to-use or customized brace.
  • Pain relief: Our pain relief approach includes non-narcotic medications and integrative care like acupuncture. Find out more about orthopedic pain we treat.
  • Physical and occupational therapy: Therapy may make it easier to do the things you want or need to do. Specialized occupational therapy can prevent nerve damage and help you regain hand strength. Read more about occupational therapy.

Carpal Tunnel Surgery

About 500,000 people have carpal tunnel surgery – also called carpal tunnel release surgery – every year. That makes this type of surgery one of the most common hand operations in the United States.

Carpal tunnel surgery involves cutting a wrist ligament to relieve pressure on the nerve. Surgeons use one of two methods:

  • Endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery: Less-invasive carpal tunnel endoscopy uses an instrument with a tiny camera attached. Your doctor is able to release the carpal tunnel ligaments through small incisions that promote faster healing.
  • Open release surgery: Open carpal tunnel surgery involves an incision in the wrist up to 2 inches long. The surgeon will then cut the carpal ligament to release and enlarge the carpal tunnel.

After the ligaments heal, they allow more space than before for nerve movement. Most people go back to work in a few weeks. Full recovery takes several months.

Hand therapy or other physical therapy after surgery can help you regain your hand strength. Learn more about orthopedic physical therapy.

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