It's likely that you've heard of carpal tunnel syndrome before. It's a condition that causes many people pain and discomfort in their wrists, hands, and arms, and if you're experiencing that pain, you may even suspect that you're dealing with a case of carpal tunnel yourself.
But what is carpal tunnel syndrome? What causes it, how is it treated, and, most importantly, when is it time to visit an orthopedic specialist to find long-term relief?
Dr. Mark Yaffe of Barrington Orthopedic Specialists wants his patients to have all the information they need to know when it's time to receive treatment for conditions that cause upper extremity pain, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Yaffe is experienced in treating both common and complex, and he'll always use the least-invasive methods possible to give you the pain relief you need.
Here are six facts you should know when considering a visit to the orthopedist about carpal tunnel syndrome:
1. Carpal Tunnel is Caused by a Compressed Nerve
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there’s too much pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. This nerve runs from your forearm through a small passageway in the wrist (the carpal tunnel), located on the palm side of your wrist near your carpal bones. When this nerve is compressed, it can cause pain in your ring finger and thumb.
But how does this compression happen in the first place? The median nerve is located next to many ligaments and tendons in the wrist, including the transverse carpal ligament. If these become swollen or inflamed from repetitive hand motions, they can put pressure on the nerve.
2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is Extremely Common
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common type of upper extremity nerve entrapment, and it’s estimated that between 3-6% of adults(opens in a new tab) in the US develop carpal tunnel syndrome each year. Women tend to have carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed more often than men. The reasons for this aren't concrete: it could be related to the size of many women's wrists, or that women tend to do more repetitive hand motions as part of their work.
3. Carpal Tunnel Can Be Caused by Repetitive Motions
Your job can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome: if your work requires you to do repetitive motions with your hands or wrists, like typing, kneading dough, or operating machinery, this is one of the most common causes of carpal tunnel.
This isn't just about work, though. Even hobbies like knitting and playing guitar can contribute to you developing carpal tunnel syndrome over time. Any activity that aggravates the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel if it's done often enough.
4. Carpal Tunnel Can Cause More Than Just Pain
When looking to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, hand pain and wrist pain are only two of many symptoms your orthopedist will consider. Other common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
- Limited wrist motion
- Tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
The carpal tunnel can also become swollen or inflamed due to repetitive motions. This can cause a noticeable bump on the back side of your wrist near your palm.
The variety of symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome is why it will ultimately require a wrist flexion test from your orthopedist to confirm the diagnosis.
5. You May Not Require Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome are available, and Dr. Yaffe prefers to begin with the most conservative options before performing carpal tunnel syndrome surgery.
Some of the most common non-surgical ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Rest: Avoiding activities that aggravate your carpal tunnel can help reduce pain and relieve symptoms.
- Anti-Inflammatory Pain Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can reduce inflammation in the wrist and associated discomfort.
- Splints or Braces: A wrist splint or brace worn at night can help keep joint and nerve positions steady.
- Cortisone Injections: Injecting a corticosteroid directly into the carpal tunnel can help reduce inflammation and provide relief.
That said, in severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, carpal tunnel release surgery may be necessary. This procedure aims to reduce pressure on the median nerve, and Dr. Yaffe offers minimally-invasive carpal tunnel release surgeries as an outpatient procedure.
Dr. Yaffe can discuss the details and risks with you in order to help you make an informed decision about how best to treat your carpal tunnel syndrome.
6. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Can Be Prevented
In many cases, it's possible to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome with simple preventive measures. These include:
- Exercising the Hands and Wrists: Stretching or using hand/wrist weights can help strengthen your hands and wrists, reducing your risk of developing carpal tunnel or making symptoms worse.
- Using Proper Posture: Using good posture when working with your hands can help keep them in healthy positions. Keep your wrists straight—not bent up or down—when typing, and avoid tucking your elbows close to your body.
- Taking Breaks: Taking regular breaks from repetitive motions can reduce strain and inflammation on the wrists.
- Using Ergonomic Equipment: Utilizing ergonomic keyboards, chairs, and other equipment can help improve workstation comfort and health.
Visit Greater Chicago's Top Carpal Tunnel Doctor
If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, don't wait to get help. Contact Dr. Yaffe's office today to set up a consultation and find the relief you need from the pain and discomfort associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Dr. Yaffe has years of experience providing carpal tunnel treatment without surgery and with surgery. He can offer you the most up-to-date treatment options available, and help you decide which option is best for your needs.
Get back on the road to pain-free hands with Greater Chicago's top upper extremity specialist. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Mark Yaffe at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists today.