Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Many people are diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome but never actually understand what it is. The Carpal Tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist, about an inch wide, on the palm side of the hand. The floor (or bottom part) and sides of the tunnel are formed by small wrist bones called Carpal bones. These Carpal bones are covered by a strong band of connective tissue called the Transverse Carpal Ligament.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when the tunnel becomes narrowed or when tissues surrounding the flexor tendons swell, putting pressure on the median nerve. When the median nerve is compressed, the symptoms can include numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand and arm.

Many professionals who work with their hands a lot, grasp, type, or do work at a desk, develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is due to continuous, repetitive use of the flexor tendons; thus, the motion contributes to swelling of the tendons, compressing the median nerve within the tunnel.

Heredity, Pregnancy, and other underlying health conditions can also be a cause. Most of the numbness and tingling occurs within the first three digits of the hand (thumb, index, middle finger) and sometimes the ring finger, as well.

Early onset diagnosis is ideal, as it can help reverse symptoms quicker, avoid surgery, and avoid permanent nerve damage. Noninvasive treatments may include rest, ice, wrist splints (mostly utilized at night during sleep), cortisone injections, and Physical Therapy to strengthen and length the muscles and ligaments within the hand and wrist.

When symptoms have been prolonged, surgery is often needed to release the nerve that is impinged within the tunnel by cutting of the transverse ligament. Depending on how long the nerve has been compressed and the damage done to the nerve, the recovery from Carpal Tunnel surgery can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Physical Therapy is then often used to help with the healing process. The benefit of Physical Therapy after surgery is that it controls swelling, manages and decreases pain, increases ROM (range of motion), and helps you get back to your prior levels of strength and functionality.