What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and How Is It Treated?

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and How Is It Treated?

Most people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, and may assume that it is the underlying cause of their wrist pain or sore hands. However, that is not necessarily the case.

What is Carpal Tunnel?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve disorder characterized by pain and weakness in the hand and wrist. The carpal tunnel is an inch-wide passageway in the wrist that encloses tendons that control movement in the thumb and fingers. It also contains the median nerve, which goes down the forearm, through the tunnel and into the hand. It’s this nerve that controls movement of the thumb and allows sensation in some of the fingers.

When the tissues around the carpal tunnel swell, they press on the structures inside it, including the median nerve. That pressure causes the symptoms that we usually associate with carpal tunnel syndrome: tingling, numbness, pain, and a feeling of weakness (or a combination of these symptoms). It can also cause a decreased function in the wrist and hand.

Early on, this damage may be reversible. As time goes on, however, permanent nerve damage may develop as the myelin sheath (nerve insulation) degenerates.

There are different underlying causes for this problem, with the most familiar one probably being overuse of the hand and wrist. This often happens in the workplace from repetitive motion. People who spend most of their day typing at a computer, or using vibrating hand tools, for example, can be more susceptible. Because of this, carpal tunnel has often been considered a workplace disorder.

However, recent research suggests that carpal tunnel syndrome is mostly associated with medical or physical conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Osteoarthritis (OA)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

How Do I Know if I Have Carpal Tunnel?

Your joint specialist is best equipped to determine if what you have is in fact carpal tunnel syndrome. He or she will ask you what makes your pain worse — for example: sleeping, holding your hand in a certain position for a long time, and so on.

Then you’ll receive a physical examination. Tapping on the median nerve will usually cause tingling fi you have carpal tunnel, and there will likely be weakness in the muscles around the base of your thumb.

Finally, there are tests that involve measuring the electrical signal going through the median nerve and imaging procedures like ultrasounds, X-rays, and MRI scans.

What Else Could Carpal Tunnel Symptoms Mean?

Other conditions that can cause pain in the hands and wrists include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): this usually causes pain in the knuckles instead of along the track of the nerve, and frequently affects both hands at the same time.
  • Neck Problems: although the pain may seem to be concentrated in your hand, it may actually be coming from pressure on the nerves in your neck.
  • An Elbow Issue: if the “funny bone” nerve that runs through your elbow gets inflamed, this can cause pain in your hand too. however, this usually causes your pinky and ring fingers to hurt instead of the other three, which is typical in carpal tunnel.
  • Diabetes: people with diabetes often end up with nerve damage, and this can affect the median nerve as well.
  • Tendonitis: the tendons that run through the carpal tunnel alongside the median nerve can become inflamed, and that can mimic some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel.
  • Sprains or Strains: even if the median nerve isn’t damaged, your wrist can be painful and stiff following an injury or overuse.
  • Compartment Syndrome: fascia is a protective sheath the body uses to enclose muscle groups, nerves, and blood vessels. When one of these “compartments” gets swollen, usually because of an injury, it can closely mimic carpal tunnel syndrome.

The Problem With Traditional Carpal Tunnel Treatments

Early on, a variety of non-invasive treatments can be used to manage carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

Initially, your doctor may suggest:

  • Wrist splints for stabilization
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, 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

In many cases, these adjustments will only manage carpal tunnel instead of cure it. In fact, one study found that 75% of patients who found carpal tunnel 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 will 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:

  • Infection
  • Stiffness
  • Nerve damage

Some patients experience a loss of strength in the wrist after surgery as well because the ligament has been cut.

Using Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) To Treat Carpal Tunnel

Platelet rich plasma therapy is an FDA approved regenerative medicine technique that 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, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

Research has shown that it is effective in controlling median nerve injuries 12 weeks after nerve damage. 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.

Seek the Experts

Because we use our hands all the time, we may not allow the injury adequate time to heal. Carpal tunnel and many of these other conditions usually won’t go away on their own without treatment. However, surgery may not be necessary.

Along with platelet rich plasma, bracing can also help keep the joint from being reinsured by over-stretching it or overuse. If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, contact the joint specialists at Flexogenix® today to get your hands back to working the way they should — without pain.

Contact us today for a no-cost consultation and receive a personalized plan to relieve your pain and improve your life!

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† While we are in network for most major insurance carriers we have some treatment programs that are not recognized or covered by many insurance carriers.