Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome seems like nothing more than a fancy name for a pinched nerve. This particular nerve is located in the wrist. The nerve runs through a thumb-sized tunnel going from the wrist towards the palm of your hand. The fact that the nerve runs through a tunnel, called the carpal tunnel, is a good thing. The tissues that make up the tunnel give the nerve a certain amount of protection.
When A Tunnel Becomes Too Crowded
A problem can occur in this tunnel however. The nerve, called the medial nerve, doesn’t have the tunnel all to itself. It has quite a bit of company. Also, the tunnel is somewhat tightly bound by ligaments and bones. Running through the tunnel along with the medial nerve are nine tendons. These are the tendons that enable you to bend your fingers. Most of the time these tendons coexist peacefully with the nerve, and most people never experience any problems. Some do however. If one or more of the tendons put pressure on the medial nerve or pinch it, the result can be uncomfortable. The nerve is responsible for the sense of feeling and touch in palm of the hand, the thumb, and the fingers with the exception of the little finger. If it becomes pinched or irritated the result can be numbness, tingling sensations, pain, or a combination of the three.
The Nerve is OK, But is Being Irritated
In most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome there is nothing wrong with the nerve itself. Almost anytime an abnormal pressure is put on or near a nerve somewhere in your body, you will experience some symptoms. The numbness and/or tingling you feel after having slept on you arm is one example. In this case, there may not have been a great deal of pressure placed on the nerve itself, but the blood supply to the nerve may have been temporarily cut off. The nerve lets you know about it. The nerve itself has not suffered any damage. Even so, carpal tunnel syndrome is often treated as if it was a neurological disorder, and in extreme cases the nerve may indeed have suffered some damage.
Causes of the Syndrome and When to See a Doctor
Sometimes the syndrome is a result of a congenital issue. You may have been born with a carpal tunnel that was destined to be a bit narrower than those in most other people. An injury to the wrist could lead to problems with the medial nerve if a bone or some other tissue has been moved ever so slightly out of place. Rheumatoid arthritis and seronegative arthritis can be a cause if it causes swelling in a joint. Those who subject their hands and fingers to repetitive motion such as typing or sewing run a risk of experiencing the symptoms of the syndrome as do those who frequently use vibrating hand tools.
If you are experiencing pain or numbness in your hand, particularly on the palm side by your thumb, it would make good sense to see your doctor. For one thing, many disorders when caught early are easier to treat. You may be able to avoid surgery as there are non-surgical methods of treating milder cases of the syndrome. Another reason to see a doctor is that if treatment is postponed for too long, the medial nerve may suffer permanent damage, in which case the symptoms being experienced could become chronic or permanent. If the syndrome has been caused by an underlying disorder, which is sometimes the case, that disorder may have to be treated first. Otherwise, treating only the syndrome itself may only provide partial or temporary relief.
Methods of Treatment
Drugs can be used in treating this syndrome although they most often provide only temporary relief. Mild symptoms may be completely eliminated through the use of drugs and medications but may return at a later time. Exercising the hands and fingers can often be quite helpful. Yoga has been found to be particularly beneficial. By following a regimen of exercise combined with yoga it may be possible to indefinitely put off any need to have surgery performed. Both exercise and yoga can strengthen the muscles and tendons in the wrist and hand which in turn offer better protection for the medial nerve.
There are times however when the only viable solution is a surgical one. The usual surgical procedure is to cut through the band of tissue around the wrist to relieve pressure on the medial nerve. Alternatively, the carpal ligament may be cut so as to increase the size of the tunnel. While most surgeries are highly successful, there is always some risk involved with surgical procedures. This is especially the case with any surgery in which a nerve is involved, since if the nerve is damaged it may not heal properly and cause problems downstream. In the vast majority of cases however patients recover completely. If the objective of the surgery is met, which is usually the case, any recurrence of the problem would be considered to be a rarity.