Carpal Tunnel? Don't Delay Treatment!
Wed, Oct 18, 2017
Don’t delay treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome
Ignoring symptoms of this common wrist problem can lead to permanent nerve damage.
First you may notice tingling or numbness in your fingers that comes and goes. Over time the sensations may get worse, lasting longer or even waking you up at night. Eventually the pain and numbness might even make it hard to grip things like a fork, a pen, or other objects.
If you're having these symptoms, it could be carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when the median nerve — which runs down your arm and into your hand — is compressed by a ligament that crosses over it as it passes through a narrow space in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel.
"Carpal tunnel syndrome has classic symptoms, which include numbness and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger," says Dr. Tamara Rozental, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and chief of hand and upper extremity surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Your little finger is typically not affected because a different nerve serves it.
Women at risk
While it used to be thought that repetitive activities such as keyboarding could cause carpal tunnel syndrome, research has found that this is largely not the case, says Dr. Rozental. However, regular use of heavy or vibrating equipment, such as a jackhammer, may predispose you to the condition.
One of the tests used to confirm carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve conduction study and electromyogram (EMG), uses an electrical signal to determine how well the nerve is working. Another test uses ultrasound, which is less invasive than an EMG but requires an experienced technician and is not as widely available.
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome
If these carpal tunnel treatments aren't effective, however, it may be time to consider surgery to release the ligament that is placing pressure on the median nerve.
When to get surgery
So, if your carpal tunnel symptoms aren't responding to other treatments, take action quickly.
The surgery takes 10 minutes under a local anesthetic. Unless you do a job that involves manual labor, you can typically go right back to normal activities, says Dr. Rozental.
"I tell my patients all the time that a carpal tunnel release done at the right time for the correct diagnosis is very successful," she says.