Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What it is, how it’s caused & how it can be dealt with

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a painful condition, but just how is it caused and how can it be cured?

First of all, what actually is carpal tunnel syndrome? Well, the carpal tunnel is made up of small bones and tough tissue, and the median nerve, one of the main nerves to the hand, passes through it. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when this nerve has a lot of pressure put onto it, leading to the symptoms those with the condition have experienced.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome mostly causes weakness in the thumb and a dull ache in the hand or arm. Another common symptom is paraesthesia, more typically known as pins and needles. However, in severe, and less frequent cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to numbness and muscle wasting.

So what is the actual cause of carpal tunnel syndrome? There are several suggestions as to why some experience it and others don’t, and it often seems to run in families. Some of the possible reasons include the thickening and tightening of the transverse carpal ligament across the tunnel with age, and the swelling of the tunnel’s soft-tissue, due to trauma or rheumatic inflammation of the tendons. Other possible causes include injury to the carpal tunnel’s bones, or hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause or thyroid disorders. Other conditions such as diabetes and cervical spondylosis have been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Is carpal tunnel syndrome treatable? In short, yes – there are several options available to treat the condition. Starting off with a more simple solution – a wrist splint. Wearing a wrist splint in bed can help you relieve the symptoms you experience overnight, and help you get a better night’s sleep.

Another simple option available is an injection of cortisone. Cortisone is a hormone made by the adrenal cortex that is also synthetically produced for use as an anti-inflammatory. A cortisone injection is only used to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome, when it’s caused by acute inflammation, although it is usually only a temporary relief of the symptoms.

Moving on from the simple options, surgery can be performed in more severe cases. The surgery aims to reduce the pressure on the median nerve by dividing the transverse carpal ligament. The procedure is actually quite a short one, with the process taking around ten to fifteen minutes.

Patients remain awake during the surgery, with local anaesthetic applied to the relevant area, along with a tourniquet to reduce the hand’s blood flow. After the surgery, the 3-4cm long incision will be stitched, and the hand will be bandaged. Although the process is only a quick one, it can leave the patient out of action for a few weeks. Light manual workers must rest for 2-3 weeks while heavy manual workers are out for up to six weeks. Two weeks without being able to drive will also be experienced.

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Of course, treatment often isn’t needed, as if the carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by hormonal changes because of events such as pregnancy, things will revert back to normal after the baby has been born.

To find out more about carpal tunnel syndrome, you can read our full guide based around the condition. If you wish to talk about your carpal tunnel syndrome or are considering having surgery to sort out the problem, then click here to contact Ladan Hajipour’s Hand & Wrist Surgery clinic to arrange a consultation. Ladan has clinics based at HCA Hospital in Wilmslow, Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle and Wythenshawe Hospital.

Read more: The most frequently asked questions about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.