Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Edward Prince, MD is an orthopedic specialist available through the Page Hospital visiting specialist program.
Question: I use a computer a lot and I worry about carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes I have some pains in my arms. What kind of treatments are available for carpal tunnel?
Answer: Carpal tunnel syndrome is difficult to diagnose without a physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders and neck; therefore, my first suggestion would be to consult your physician immediately if you are having regular pain, weakness or numbness in your hand, wrist or forearm.
If your pain is found to be a result of carpal tunnel syndrome, early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage. The condition can be progressive and is caused by the compression of the median nerve, which controls sensation and muscle control to the hand, fingers and thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome gets its name from the rigid passageway of bones and ligament at the base of the hand – the tunnel, which surrounds the median nerve.
In special circumstances, various medications such as anti-inflammatory medications may ease symptoms that have been present for a short time or have been caused by strenuous activity. Stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as corticosteroid injections, can also be helpful in certain patient populations. If surgery is required, carpal tunnel release involves releasing the thick ligament through a small incision to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Surgery is often done under a form of local anesthesia and does not require an overnight hospital stay. Although symptoms may be relieved immediately after surgery, full return of normal sensation and strength from carpal tunnel surgery can take months. Some patients with less strenuous work duties return to work after only one to two weeks, while others who place heavier demands on their hands may require three to four weeks for a full return to work.
The following tips may help prevent the syndrome from developing:
- If you must do a repetitive task, avoid bending, extending or twisting your hands for long periods.
- Avoid resting your wrists on hard surfaces for a long time.
- Don’t sit or stand in the same position all day.
- If you use a keyboard, make sure it is at the right height—you don’t want to flex your wrists to type.