What are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

You have intermittent tingling in your fingers, but you ignore it as usual. It has happened before, but this time you feel a surge of pain. Ouch.

You stop what you are doing and take a break. You walk around for a few minutes, shake it off, and go back to what you were doing that caused the pain because you must keep going. You have work to do. You have a deadline to meet.

In the back of your mind you know that something is not right. You’ve heard stories about people who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, but surely this is not your problem. Those type of things happen to other people, not you… right?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder that develops over time, due to repeated stressful movements of the hands and wrist. It occurs when pressure is placed on the median nerve, a nerve that travels up a passageway called the carpal tunnel and supplies movement and feeling to the thumb and first three fingers. It usually occurs in the dominant hand, but in some cases can affect both hands. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects almost 5% of the population.

Symptoms include:

  • Numbness of the hand and wrist
  • Tingling up the forearm
  • Excruciating pain

Some causes of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Acute trauma, such as a wrist fracture or bone spurs.
  • Repetitive motion activities, such as typing, hammering, or using a screwdriver.
  • Illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, and hypothyroidism.
  • Pregnancy, which causes water retention that can result in compression of the median nerve (these symptoms are usually temporary, and should subside after delivery).
  • Obesity, which can increase the pressure of the median nerve and reduce blood flow.
  • Smoking, which can reduce blood flow.
  • Alcoholism, which has detrimental effects to all systems and components in the body.

Understand the level of progression for your particular case of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is generally categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.

The following treatments can be considered for mild and moderate severity:

  • Ice pack to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Try to eliminate or reduce repetitive motion activities that initially caused the condition.
  • Use ergonomic equipment at work to reduce the risk of strain such as a split keyboard, mouse pad with a wrist rest, adjustable foot rest, document holder, arm/ extender for monitor, and keyboard tray.
  • Over the counter medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Certain herbs have been known to have beneficial effects, including:
  • Increase vitamin B6 dosage, however be very careful not to take too much. Overdosing can cause nerve damage over the long run. The Institute of Medicine has established an upper limit for adults of 100 mg per day. Speak to your physician to determine your threshold before starting a vitamin B6 regimen.
  • Consider acupuncture or acupressure treatment. Both methods have been considered extremely effective alternatives to surgery.
  • See a chiropractor. A good chiropractor can manipulate the soft tissue around the joints, and provide relief to some of your symptoms.
  • Practice yoga, which can help reduce pain and inflammation, as well as increase blood flow.
  • Do hand exercises to increase circulation and strengthen the hand and wrist. Rotating the wrist in a circle several times a day for 2 minutes at a time.
  • Cortisone injections, however they should be used sparingly (if at all), because they are known to weaken soft tissue.
  • Diet and exercise. Excess fat can cause compression of the median nerve which leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. By accelerating the heart rate, you not only burn fat in the long, you build stronger bones and connective tissue, which minimizes the odds of future injury.
  • Use a wrist brace to stabilize your wrist so that it does not bend, thereby preventing further injury. Since most symptoms occur at night, and first thing in the morning, you will want to wear it throughout the day and evening. When searching for a proper wrist brace, look for one that:
  • When typing, keep the wrists as straight as possible. Ensure that the hands and forearms are on the same plane. hand repetitive motion injury
  • Be aware of body mechanics. Try to unlearn bad habits, restore natural balance, and realign the body.
  • Splint the wrist with a carpal tunnel wrist brace. Sleep with it on, because symptoms are often worse at night or in the morning than they are during the day time.
    • Aloe Vera- reduces inflammation.
    • Ginkgo Biloba- increases circulation
    • Wintergreen oil- aids circulation and reduces pain.
    • Turmeric- known for anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Skullcap- relieves pain.
    • Fits properly
    • Is comfortable
    • Is breathable
    • Contains an anti-sweat lining.
    • Is easy to wash and dries quickly
    • Is inconspicuous, like a glove (the color black is a popular option)
    • Is not too bulky
    • Is easy to put on and take off

If your symptoms are severe, which means that there is constant numbness, muscle weakness, and atrophy which have persisted for longer than six months, you may be a candidate for surgery. As with any surgery there are risk factors such as infection, nerve damage, stiffness, and a vertical scar in the wrist area.  Of course, these all depend on your overall general health, as well as other circumstances. Speak to your physician to get an honest, clear assessment of your situation.

According to HealthCareBlueBook.com the average cost of carpal tunnel surgery are:

·         Physician services- $746

·         Outpatient facility services (overnight stay not included) – $1,297

·         Anesthesia services- $408

If you choose an inpatient facility (which includes an overnight stay) which will significantly increase the cost of the facility services. However, keep in mind that there are also indirect costs, such as time off work and physical therapy.

The good news is, carpal tunnel syndrome is curable in approximately 95% of all cases without hand surgery, which is often a last resort. However, if you have exhausted all alternatives, rest assured that this is among the most common hand surgery performed in the United States, where 85%- 95% of patients have had permanent relief of significant pain and numbness.