Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist. It occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. Symptoms usually start gradually, with pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist, radiating up the arm. As symptoms worsen, people might feel tingling during the day, and decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. In some cases no direct cause of the syndrome can be identified. Most likely the disorder is due to a congenital predisposition - the carpal tunnel is simply smaller in some people than in others. The risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome is especially common in those who preform repetitive work tasks, such as assembly line work. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also associated with pregnancy and diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.
How is carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?
Early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid permanent damage to the median nerve. A physical examination of the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck can help determine if the patient's complaints are related to daily activities or to an underlying disorder, and can rule out other painful conditions that mimic carpal tunnel syndrome. The wrist is examined for tenderness, swelling, warmth, and discoloration. Each finger should be tested for sensation, and the muscles at the base of the hand should be examined for strength and signs of atrophy. Routine laboratory tests and X-rays can reveal diabetes, arthritis, and fractures.
Physicians can use specific tests to try to produce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Often it is necessary to confirm the diagnosis by use of electrodiagnostic tests.
Initial treatment generally involves resting the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, other nonprescription pain relievers, and oral steroids (prednisone) may ease pain. Steroid injections can also be used to alleviate the swelling and pressure on the median nerve. For more severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, open carpal tunnel release surgery or endoscopic carpal tunnel release may be recommended.
In general, carpal tunnel syndrome responds well to treatment, with the majority of patients recovering completely. To prevent workplace-related carpal tunnel syndrome, workers can do on-the-job conditioning, perform stretching exercises, take frequent rest breaks, wear splints to keep wrists straight, and use correct posture and wrist position. Wearing fingerless gloves can help keep hands warm and flexible.
Once we determine the source of the symptoms via a thorough examination we can treat your particular condition appropriately. First and foremost it is important to address all involved joints and muscles in order to remove the compression on the median nerve and allow for the body to regain normal function.
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