Carpal Tunnel FAQs
Exactly what is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that affects the hand and wrist. The carpal tunnel is actually an area or tunnel within the wrist. This tunnel is surrounded by wrist bones as well as by a rigid ligament linking the bones together. The flexing tendons of the fingers and thumb and the median nerve are also within the carpal tunnel. The median nerve is what carries signals from the brain that control action of the fingers and hand in addition to relaying information about temperature, touch and, unfortunately, pain. It also controls sweating of the hand. The median nerve controls the thumb, index and middle finger, and ring finger. Swelling of the tendons from overuse or repeated motion within the carpal tunnel reduces the space in the carpal tunnel, squeezing the median nerve and causing feelings of numbness, terrible pain, tingling and clumsiness of the affected hand.
Why does carpal tunnel syndrome happen in the first place?
Every time the wrist bends or the fingers move, muscles and tendons are used. Tendons within the hand are surrounded by sheaths that produce a slippery fluid which helps to lubricate the tendons. The lubrication is necessary in order for the tendons to have smooth and normal functioning. Repetitive or excessive motion can cause a number of things to transpire with the lubricating fluid within the sheaths, such as not producing enough fluid or possibly producing fluid with poor lubricating qualities. Improperly lubricated tendons cause friction and swelling of the tendon area resulting in swelling of the median nerve… which then causes fibrous tissue to form, thickening the tendon sheath, hindering tendon movement and causing often excruciating pain.
Can carpal tunnel syndrome be cured?
Carpal tunnel syndrome cannot be cured; however, there are temporary ways including resting the affected hand, taking anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections, NSAIDs, the use of cold packs or a splint to restrict movement of the hand. Sometimes physicians may suggest surgery, a painful and expensive operation to cut the ligament that is pressing on the median nerve.
But now there is CarpalAID, an easy, economical way to help alleviate or lessen the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome without invasive surgery.
Is carpal tunnel syndrome arthritis?
Arthritis can mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Although also very painful and possibly caused by a medical problem such as rheumatoid arthritis, in general, arthritis is not the same thing as carpal tunnel syndrome. Getting a proper diagnosis is important.
Is carpal tunnel syndrome the same thing as wrist tendonitis?
Although possibly exhibiting some similarities, carpal tunnel syndrome is not tendonitis.
I have gout. Is carpal tunnel related to gout?
There is some thought that in some sufferers, gout may be a contributing factor. Only your medical professional can tell you for certain. It is recommended to get a physician’s help to correctly diagnose.
Is there a way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome altogether?
Sometimes losing weight may help in alleviating symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, as may getting proper medical treatment for any underlying conditions which may be causing your carpal tunnel syndrome pain. If you work with your hands on a repetitive basis, don’t sit or stand in the same position all day and try not to twist, bend or extend your hands for long periods of time. Keep your arms and hands at a comfortable distance from your body. Try not to rest your hands or wrists on hard surfaces for too long, and switch hands if possible, taking regular breaks. Try to use a wrist gel rest if you use the computer all day and try to make sure your work chair keeps your forearms level with the keyboard so you are not flexing your wrists.
How do they know that is what I really have? What kind of tests are there?
When you see your doctor or other medical professional, you will get asked about your symptoms and what exacerbates the pain for you. When the doctor taps on the inside of your wrist, you may feel a tingling or electric shock sort of pain. Your doctor may ask you to bend your wrist down for a minute or so to see if this causes symptoms. A physician may do a nerve conduction test or an electromyography and nerve conduction velocity tests on the hand to determine whether the muscles and nerves are presenting the typical effects of carpal tunnel syndrome. Even then, it is not an exact diagnosis.
Why is it suddenly causing me pain?
There may be an underlying medical cause for your sudden onset carpal tunnel pain. It could be the result of years of overuse of the wrists and hands (grocery checkers, computer users, carpenters or the like) or it could be caused as a result of an illness such as gout, diabetes, thyroid problems or rheumatoid arthritis. Only a medical professional can tell with any certainty.
I’m in my last trimester of pregnancy and suddenly I am having wrist pain that the doctor is telling me is carpal tunnel syndrome. I don’t want to have surgery. I want to be able to hold my baby. What can I do?
Congratulations! Unfortunately for you, sometimes pregnancy may bring on symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This usually disappears after the baby is born but just to make sure, ask your doctor or other medical professional.
Do I have to see a surgeon and have surgery to fix it?
You do not necessarily have to see a surgeon nor do you have to have surgery to fix carpal tunnel syndrome; however, if you are having pain that you suspect may be a result of carpal tunnel syndrome, you should see your medical professional to ascertain exactly what is going on. Surgery to fix carpal tunnel syndrome is expensive and painful and often unnecessary. Only your doctor can guide you on this.
Is surgery effective and how long is recovery after surgery? I can’t afford to be out of work.
Oftentimes, surgery is called for to make the symptoms disappear almost completely. The surgery is expensive and is priced per hand. It may take a number of weeks or even months to regain normal use of your hand and wrist after the surgery. It’s one thing with a “hobby” as the cause – you can wait. But you may not be able to wait that long to regain the use of your hand and wrist if that is how you earn a living. And take note that more than half of those who undergo the surgery still are not satisfied with the results.
Does acupuncture help with carpal tunnel pain?
Acupuncture may help reduce pain and increase mobility resulting from carpal tunnel syndrome. If surgery is the treatment decided, acupuncture may also help speed up the recovery process and may help you to regain full use of the affected hand quicker.
Is carpal tunnel syndrome genetic? No one in my family has had it.
In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome has been shown to be hereditary, but as you can attest to, that is not always the case.
I see people wearing a device on their wrist that looks like a splint. Does that help?
Some people get relief when they use a wrist splint. It is, however, cumbersome, not particularly attractive and it is not a permanent solution. Take it off and the pain from the years of repetitive motion returns.
Do anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs help?
In some cases, NSAIDs can temporarily help alleviate pain from carpal syndrome but it is not permanent. It can help reduce swelling but does not treat the condition itself. Even steroid shots into the affected area are not a permanent solution – the pain usually returns after 4 to 6 weeks… in spite of getting the injection.
Are there any exercises to strengthen my wrist so the carpal tunnel syndrome goes away?
Massage, including deep tissue massage of the wrist and hand area may help with the pain but they cannot cure carpal tunnel syndrome. They can just treat the pain. Hand, wrist and finger exercises may help. Ask your medical professional.
Will I get it in my other hand also?
Not necessarily but possibly, especially if you use both hands equally and in the same manner. If there is an underlying medical condition, you are more likely to get it in the other hand.
Sometimes I get pain really badly at night. Is that typical?
It is not typical but many people do report that the pain is worse at night. That may be the result of blood circulation to the hand being restricted by the injured tissue, pressure on the affected hand/wrist or reduced circulation, or lymphatic fluid slowing down at night due to less muscle movement at night to disperse lymphatic fluid.