What Is Carpal Tunnel and How to Treat It Without Surgery
The hands are a vital part of the human body — whether you’re texting, driving, cooking dinner, pitching a baseball, turning a wrench, giving a handshake — you use them to grab and release all day long.
Unfortunately, a repetitive use injury called carpal tunnel syndrome can make even the simplest task aggravating to perform.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Understanding carpal tunnel syndrome begins by understanding a little anatomy.
The median nerve provides sensations to your fingers. This important nerve runs through the carpal tunnel which is formed by small wrist bones. The tunnel is covered by a ligament called the transverse carpal ligament.
“Repetitive movements of the hand can cause the transverse ligament to swell, putting pressure on the median nerve and causing uncomfortable symptoms,” said Razvan Nicolescu, MD, orthopedic hand surgeon of Avera Orthopedics.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may experience the following symptoms in your hand:
The pain can get so bad that people often report waking up in the middle of the night.
“Sometimes we want to push through the pain and avoid asking for help,” said Nicolescu. “Your hands do a lot for you; and they need an appropriate level of care as well.”
Carpal Tunnel Treatment Options
Nonsurgical options are available; the most popular one which offers the most effectiveness is carpal tunnel bracing.
The brace holds the wrist in a straight, neutral position, which reduces the amount of swelling in the transverse ligament — ultimately saving the medium nerve from unnecessary pressure.
Patients usually wear the brace at night when they sleep. It’s also frequently worn while performing stiffening or repetitive actions such as driving or typing.
Steroid injections are another treatment option. However, injections are often reserved for carpal tunnel syndrome with an accompanying nerve-related condition, such as cervical radiculopathy or peripheral neuropathy.
Some people also benefit from other ergonomic aids, such as a wrist rest at their computer keyboard.
Consult an orthopedic expert; they’ll help you find an effective solution before you feel the need to change jobs, stop a favorite hobby, or hire out house and yard chores.
When to Turn to Carpal Tunnel Surgery
“When we’ve exhausted nonsurgical options, and the symptoms haven’t improved or haven’t gone away, we turn to surgery,” said Nicolescu, who performs endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery when appropriate. The good part is that these surgeries use small incisions which allow for a quicker recovery.
“However, our goal is to avoid surgery whenever we can,” said Nicolescu. “A nonsurgical approach like bracing is a very reasonable option, especially for mild carpal tunnel.”
Your Next Step Is Orthopedic Care
If you’re experiencing carpal tunnel symptoms, contact your local Avera Orthopedics team to learn about your treatment options.