Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a nerve disorder characterized by pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. It develops from problems in a nerve in the wrist, though the exact progression is not completely understood.
With an estimated 3 million cases diagnosed per year and more than 500,000 surgeries in the U.S. per year, CTS is a common disorder.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a promising new treatment for CTS and a variety of other disorders, from osteoarthritis to tennis elbow.
Understanding Carpal Tunnel
Our wrists are complex, flexible joints that allow us to do everything from paint a bedroom to conduct a symphony.
When they’re in pain, our actions become limited in ways we’d never expect. Typing a short email or even holding the steering wheel can be excruciatingly painful.
Carpal tunnel, a common wrist-pain culprit, is caused by pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. This nerve controls feeling and movement in your thumb and first three fingers (though not in your pinky finger).
Along with several tendons, the medial nerve runs from your lower arm into your wrist through the carpal tunnel, a space underneath the ligament that connects the bones to each other where the wrist and palm meet.
Irritation of this ligament can cause inflammation, which leads to swelling and a “pushing down” of the carpal tunnel. When tissues around the median nerve swell and press on the nerve, it causes pain and decreases function in the wrist and hand.
Early on, this may be reversible. As time goes on, however, permanent nerve damage may develop as the myelin sheath (nerve insulation) degenerates.
Carpal tunnel has often been considered a workplace disorder, brought on by repetitive typing and poor workstation setup. However, recent research suggest that CTS is mostly associated with medical or physical conditions, such as:
- Osteoarthritis (OA)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
The Problem With Traditional Treatments
Early on, a variety of non-invasive treatments can be used to manage CTS symptoms.
Initially, doctors may suggest:
- Wrist splints for stabilization
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter pain relievers)
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen the fingers and hand
- Modifications to home or work setup to reduce wrist and finger flexion
- Cortisone injections into the carpal tunnel for pain relief
However, in many cases, these adjustments manage CTS instead of cure it. In fact, one study found that 75% of patients who found CTS relief in methylprednisolone (cortisone) shots eventually need surgery.
Surgery is often recommended if you’ve had symptoms for more than six months. The procedure, called carpal tunnel release, involves cutting the ligament to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Many patients require surgery on both hands.
Recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome after surgery is rare. However, full recovery can take several months and usually involves physical therapy.
Possible complications include:
- Nerve damage
Some patients experience loss of strength in the wrist after surgery because the ligament has been cut.
PRP as a Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Platelet-rich plasma therapy, an FDA-cleared regenerative medicine technique, uses your own blood to treat an injury.
It involves drawing a small amount of blood and placing it into a rapidly rotating centrifuge. This 15-minute process separates out the blood’s platelet-rich plasma. This substance is then injected back into the site of injury, delivering a high concentration of growth factors that facilitate the body’s healing process.
PRP shows promise in treating nerve disorders like CTS. Research has shown that it’s effective in controlling median nerve injury (simulated carpal tunnel syndrome in rabbits) 12 weeks after nerve damage.
Another study indicates that perineural PRP injections lead to sensory improvement among leprosy patients. Leprosy, the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy in the world, is characterized by numbness, pain, or tingling in the feet or hands.
Because the platelet-rich plasma comes from your own body, the likelihood of rejection or allergic reaction is very low. Patients are drawn to the minimal risks, short recovery time, and promising clinical results.
Flexogenix has been at the forefront of regenerative medicine treatments for years. If you’re interested in PRP to treat carpal tunnel or another disorder, please contact us for a free consultation.