Carpal Tunnel Symptoms Can Be Dangerous to Ignore
Will carpal tunnel symptoms eventually just go away on its own?
We think of carpal tunnel syndrome as a condition that came into being with computer keyboards and other modern devices that involve repetitive movements. In truth, it was the English surgeon and pathologist, Sir James Paget, who, in 1854, first documented patient symptoms associated with the median nerve being compressed in the wrist, which is what we refer to as carpal tunnel syndrome.
After World War II, the awareness of carpal tunnel syndrome began to make its way into the mainstream. We know that the cause of this condition is compression within the carpal tunnel near the wrist, which results in pressure on the median nerve. What has been more difficult to pin down is the underlying reason that the space in the carpal tunnel becomes compressed in the first place.
Risk Factors of Carpal Tunnel
Once the computer age put everyone on a keyboard, followed by even more exposure to the same kinds of movements with smartphones and gaming devices, every twinge in the wrist brought the thought of carpal tunnel syndrome. Often this was a good guess, but we now know that repetitive motion is only one of a long list of risk factors for this condition. Some of the other more common ones include:
- gender – the tunnel itself is typically smaller in women
- diabetes – diabetics have an increased risk of nerve damage
- cysts – growths within the carpal tunnel reduce the available space
- alcohol consumption
- thyroid disease
- kidney failure
- arthritis in the wrist – especially rheumatoid arthritis which is characterized by inflammation
- pregnancy and menopause – both result in fluid retention which can create pressure within the carpal tunnel
- injury or trauma to the wrist
- small frames – there is less room for any sort of swelling to not affect the nerve
Whatever the cause, we usually first suspect there may be a carpal tunnel issue when we feel pain or discomfort in our wrist or maybe a tingling in our thumb or first couple of fingers. It may feel more like numbness or burning, and the sensation might stretch into the palm of the hand. These symptoms may come and go, and they are often worse at night, actually causing the individual to wake up from the discomfort. As the condition worsens, there will likely be a loss of strength and dexterity in the affected wrist and hand.
Treatment or Just Time?
Symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome usually develop gradually, over time. This can result in a delay in treatment, especially if the symptoms come and go. For the milder cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, the simple and common sense steps of rest and support, usually wearing a protective brace or splint, can be all that is required. The next step would be medications to control pain and reduce swelling and corticosteroid injections for countering inflammation. If these are not successful, it may be time for surgery, which is a relatively simple procedure on the ligament that is affecting the median nerve.
Carpal tunnel syndrome may seem common and familiar, but it is a mistake to assume that means that it can just be ignored. There is a danger that if the nerve is left compressed too long, there can be permanent damage, resulting in the surrounding muscle becoming compromised and weakened.
If you have symptoms that you feel may be related to carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to consult with your healthcare professional.
If you have questions about carpal tunnel syndrome or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.
Posted in: Hand & Wrist