Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve is compressed as it passes through an opening from the wrist to the hand called the carpal tunnel.

What are the symptoms?

  • Weakness when gripping objects with the hand(s)
  • Pain and/or numbness in the hand(s)
  • “Pins and needles” feeling in the fingers
  • Swollen feeling in the fingers
  • Burning or tingling in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers
  • Pain and/or numbness that is worse at night, interrupting sleep

What treatment options are available?

Mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome may be treated by applying a brace or splint, usually worn at night, to keep the wrist from bending. Resting the wrist allows swollen and inflamed synovial membranes to shrink, relieving pressure on the nerve. Swollen membranes may also be reduced in size by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

In more severe cases, an orthopedic physician may advise a cortisone injection into the carpal tunnel. This medicine spreads around the swollen synovial membranes that surround the tendons and shrinks them, relieving pressure on the median nerve. The effectiveness of non-surgical treatment is often dependent on early diagnosis and treatment.

For patients who do not gain relief from non-surgical measures, it may be necessary to perform a “release” — a surgical procedure to cut the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel, thereby relieving pressure on the median nerve. This procedure is typically performed as outpatient surgery. Length of recovery varies by individual.