With the increasing use of keyboards, cell phones, and other electronic devices, disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and basilar joint arthritis are on the rise. These conditions can eventually escalate into hand pain that disrupts everyday life and causes irreversible damage. Fortunately, a free hand screening can detect CTS before any permanent damage occurs.
Overview of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
CTS is a relatively common disorder. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 3 to 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from this condition. This disorder occurs as the result of compression when the carpal tunnel becomes narrowed or inflammation causes tissues to exert pressure on the median nerve.
The hallmark symptoms of CTS are numbness and tingling, primarily in the thumb, middle, and index fingers. Some patients complain of a type of burning pain. In making a diagnosis, physicians also look for any signs of muscle atrophy.
Repetitive use of the hand causes worsening symptoms. As CTS advances, they become more constant. Symptoms are often more pronounced at night than during the daytime. Left untreated, the disorder can cause:
- Permanent nerve damage
- Permanent loss of muscle
- Problems with mechanics
- Finger clawing
Individuals with these conditions are at elevated risk for CTS:
- Being female
- Repetitive use of a hand
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Hand Treatment Options
It is extremely important that patients undergo an evaluation by a specialist at the first sign of any CTS symptoms in order to get the correct diagnosis and the most appropriate hand treatment. A free hand screening could detect signs of the problem before it becomes serious. In addition to a physical exam, nerve conduction studies also sometimes useful.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes both non-surgical and surgical treatment options are available to relieve the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition to making lifestyle changes that reduce hand and wrist activity, some patients experience short-term relief after nighttime splinting or receiving steroid injections. However, in most cases, physicians recommend outpatient surgery to relieve pressure on the median nerve. When initially evaluated, some patients already have such severe symptoms that surgery is the immediate option.
One surgical option is the use of an open carpal tunnel release. This involves making an incision to view the inside of the hand and wrist and relieve median nerve pressure.
A second type of surgery is the endoscopic carpal tunnel procedure. The surgeon makes a small incision in the affected wrist and inserts a miniature camera to visualize the patient’s internal anatomy and reduce pressure on the nerve. Patients only rarely require post-operative prescription medication for pain. Most can return to normal daily activities right away. A lightweight brace encases the affected hand. Discharge instructions specify any activity or other restrictions.