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What to Know About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

January 27, 2020

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes numbness, tingling and pain in the hand and arm. It's caused by compression in the median nerve, one of the major nerves that runs through the hand. Orthopedic surgeon Jacob Brubacher, MD, explains the symptoms and treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • The most common symptom is numbness and tingling in the first 3 fingers of their hands, usually the thumb, index and long finger. It typically starts with intermittent numbness and tingling. People may feel it when they’re using their cellphone or driving their car. As the compression becomes more significant, the symptoms become more frequent. Over time, the numbness and tingling can become constant.

  • Yes. People may feel like they're dropping things. They might also wake up several times during the night because their hands are buzzing or tingling.

  • Treatment options depend on how severe the level of compression is and how severe clinical symptoms are. For mild carpal tunnel syndrome, a night brace is used. It can be quite effective as it keeps the wrist in a neutral position. It also prevents any compression of the nerve.

    For mild to moderate symptoms, an injection of corticosteroid effectively alleviates symptoms, often for a long period of time. For moderate to severe carpal tunnel syndrome, surgical release is often the best option. By relieving the compression of the nerve, we prevent further numbness, tingling or permanent symptoms that may occur and damage the nerve.

  • Carpal tunnel release is an outpatient surgery used to treat and, in some cases, heal carpal tunnel syndrome. During the open procedure, the surgeon will make an incision to open the wrist and enlarge the carpal tunnel area. The surgery may also be done endoscopically, using a thin, flexible tube and camera that are inserted through a tiny incision in the wrist. The camera guides the surgeon to complete the procedure without opening the wrist.

    The success of the treatment is excellent. Most people are satisfied with the results of carpal tunnel release, especially those who have had significant night symptoms. The happiest patients tend to be those who seek treatment when they still have mild to moderate symptoms. For people who experience severe nerve compressions, the numbness, tingling and weakness may not resolve completely.

  • Not everyone who thinks they may have carpal tunnel syndrome actually has carpal tunnel syndrome. It may be a nerve compression in the neck or anywhere along the back down into the hand. Our team offers a wide range of experience in both routine and complex nerve compression conditions. We receive many referrals, so we see some of the most complex peripheral nerve injury cases. We also have an expert neurology team, who helps us evaluate and treat complex cases.

    Learn more about carpal tunnel treatment at The University of Kansas Health System.

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