Many people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, but most are unclear about what it is, what causes it, its symptoms, and what happens during surgery, among other questions. Below are answers to the most common questions about carpal tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel release surgery.
Carpal tunnel release surgery is one of the most common orthopedic surgeries performed in the United States. The procedure prevents and helps heal the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. During a carpal tunnel release, a surgeon will make a cut through the ligament pressing down on the carpal tunnel, making room for the median nerve and tendons passing through the tunnel. This can improve the pain and function of the wrist and hand.
At NTTC, we do a variety of orthopedic procedures, including:
- Rotator cuff repair and other shoulder procedures
- Hip repair
- Achilles tendon repair, bunionectomy, and hammertoe
- Wrist arthroscopy and other hand-related procedures
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand. The median nerve – which provides feelings to the palm of your hand, the palmate side of the thumb, and some fingers – lives in the carpal tunnel, along with the tendons that bend the fingers. The median nerve also controls some small muscles at the base of the thumb.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve gets pressed or squeezed at the wrist.
Among other types of swelling, the linings of irritated tendons can sometimes thicken and cause compression in the median nerve. This can cause numbness, weakness, and sometimes pain in the hand and wrist, or in the forearm and arm.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
According to the Mayo Clinic, different factors have been associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Although they may not directly cause it, they may increase your chances of developing or aggravating median nerve damage. These include:
- Anatomic factors. A wrist fracture or dislocation, or arthritis that deforms the small bones in the wrist, can alter the space within the carpal tunnel and put pressure on the median nerve. People with smaller carpal tunnels may be more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is generally more common in women. This may be because the carpal tunnel area is relatively smaller in women than in men. Women who have carpal tunnel syndrome may also have smaller carpal tunnels than women who don’t have the condition.
- Nerve-damaging conditions. Some chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, increase your risk of nerve damage, including damage to your median nerve.
- Inflammatory conditions. Illnesses that are characterized by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the lining around the tendons in your wrist and put pressure on your median nerve.
- Being obese is a significant risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Alterations in the balance of body fluids. Fluid retention may increase the pressure within your carpal tunnel, irritating the median nerve. This is common during pregnancy and menopause. Carpal tunnel syndrome associated with pregnancy generally resolves on its own after pregnancy.
- Other medical conditions. Certain conditions, such as menopause, obesity, thyroid disorders, and kidney failure, may increase your chances of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Workplace factors. It’s possible that working with vibrating tools or on an assembly line that requires prolonged or repetitive flexing of the wrist may create harmful pressure on the median nerve or worsen existing nerve damage.
What are the symptoms?
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes discomfort in the wrist and hand. The discomfort usually comes in two varieties: tingling/numbness and weakness.
You may feel tingling and numbness in your fingers or hand, but not your little finger. It can sometimes feel like an electric shock. The sensation can also travel from your wrist up your arm. These symptoms often occur while holding a steering wheel, phone, or newspaper. This sensation can also wake you up in the middle of the night.
“Shaking out” your hands can relieve the symptoms in the short term, but without treatment the feeling of numbness may become constant over time.
Weakness in your hand and a tendency to drop objects can also be symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This may be because of the numbness in your hand or weakness of the thumb’s pinching muscles, which are also controlled by the median nerve.
So how do we fix it?
At NTTC, we perform carpal tunnel release surgery, one of the most common surgeries in the U.S. Surgeons perform carpal tunnel release surgery to prevent and potentially heal the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. During a carpal tunnel release, the doctor will cut the carpal ligament, making room for the median nerve and tendons passing through the tunnel. This can reduce the pain and improve the function of the wrist and hand.
How much does carpal tunnel surgery cost?
Carpal tunnel release surgery costs vary from location to location, depending on where you have the procedure and who is paying.