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What happens if you don’t treat carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common hand and wrist injury that is often caused by repetitive motion. Because symptoms tend to develop gradually, many people don’t recognize or treat the condition early on. But left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can become more extreme, disrupting your life and severely limiting day-to-day activities. That’s why understanding the symptoms and treating carpal tunnel syndrome is essential.

Cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm goes through a small space at the base of the palm known as the carpal tunnel. The nerve is surrounded by bone, tendons and ligament, and when this nerve is squeezed or compressed, it often results in tingling or numbness in the hand and fingers, followed by weakness, pain or other more severe symptoms.

This compression occurs most commonly in women, often due to smaller bone structure, and thus less room in the carpal tunnel, and – surprising to many patients – symptoms may become more prominent after a night of rest. This is due to the fact that many people unknowingly flex their wrists while they sleep, causing nerve compression. For others, repetitive motion is the first trigger, which can come from many common activities including typing or cutting, painting and gardening.

If you’ve recently started a new activity that requires a repetitive hand or wrist motion, be sure to take breaks to avoid overuse of your hand and wrist muscles.

How Long Can I Go Without Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Without treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can weaken your thumb and fingers, and reduce your strength and ability to grasp and grip. In severe cases, you may lose sensation for heat or cold or experience severe muscle deterioration at the base of the hand.

But being responsive to early symptoms can be key to prevention and the road to recovery. If you experience carpal tunnel symptoms, first take a break from repetitive activities, and begin an icing regimen for 10-15 minutes a couple of times per day. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can also help to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

If, after taking these actions for a few weeks, you don’t feel an improvement, it’s a good time to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic physician who specializes in hand and wrist injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

An early diagnosis will lead to faster pain relief and also minimize long-term damage. Choose an orthopedic specialist who focuses on hand and wrist treatments. They will determine the nature and severity of your injury and recommend an appropriate treatment regimen. Many doctors will recommend a conservative treatment approach first, which may include rest, a wrist brace, and ice (yes, more ice!).  

Depending on your circumstances and response to these treatments, other options may be recommended, including injections or surgery if necessary. Your individual situation will drive your treatment recommendations, with the goal of minimizing or eliminating pressure on the median nerve to avoid long-term or even permanent nerve damage.

If surgery is needed to release pressure on the nerve, it’s typically an outpatient procedure and requires only a local anesthetic. Most patients can return to their normal activities in a matter of days after surgery.

If you are experiencing any of these carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, don’t wait to be diagnosed and treated. Delays will only prolong your pain or limit your activities and could lead to serious long-term nerve damage. 

See a hand and wrist specialist in Colorado Springs at Colorado Center of Orthopedic Excellence. Call for an appointment at 719-623-1050.

The Complete Guide to Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of hand pain, sensations of numbness and weakness, and that “pins and needles” feeling in the hands. At the Colorado Center for Orthopaedic Excellence, we are experts in all aspects of hand and wrist care. That’s why we created this complete guide to carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Affecting nearly 10% of the US population, carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression or entrapment of the medial nerve. The medial nerve runs under the skin in a narrow passageway known as the carpal tunnel. The tunnel extends from your forearm into your wrist. It is formed by the carpal bones and nine tendons. The medial nerve is responsible for signals to and from the thumb, index, middle and part of your ring finger. If the tendons and connective tissues become inflamed due to overuse or other factors, they can swell, placing pressure on the delicate nerve.

When the nerve is compressed, the signals cannot fire properly and patients often begin to notice pain, a tingling or burning sensation, and numbness. People with carpal tunnel syndrome may have trouble gripping or holding objects, or performing fine motor functions such as writing or playing a guitar. The onset of symptoms tends to be gradual and may come and go, especially at first.

If the condition is left untreated, it can cause the muscles to atrophy (waste away). While either hand can be affected, approximately half of the people diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome experience problems involving both hands.  Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus or multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Circulatory disorders
  • Obesity
  • Work that is highly repetitive, such as typing

Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome is highly treatable. Depending on the severity, it may require only rest, bracing, or other treatment such as anti-inflammatory medications. If you do not respond to treatment, surgery may be required.

The most common corrective surgery for carpal tunnel is known as an open release. In an open release procedure, the surgeon can correct the issue by opening a space to relieve pressure on the median nerve. The procedure requires a three-inch incision in what is known as the transverse carpal ligament, in order to enlarge the tunnel. This procedure usually takes about 15 minutes to perform.

This surgery is also possible with an endoscopic carpal tunnel release. An incision is made in the palm of the hand and the surgeon gently slides a small endoscope into the opening. The surgeon then makes another incision in order to insert a specialized instrument that will be used to relieve pressure on the nerve.

After the procedure has been completed, the wound is wrapped in a soft sterile dressing. Patients are required to wear bracing to protect the area and promote healing. Patients can move their fingers right after the surgery, and are advised to avoid gripping heavy objects or picking up heavy loads for another six weeks. To learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome, or any other orthopedic related concern, please call Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence at (719) 623-1050 to request an appointment.