Carpal Tunnel is one of the most well-known hand conditions, with millions of American’s suffering from the disorder every year. There are many articles out there about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and the surgery associated with it (including some of our own) but this blog will provide a deep dive into what Carpal Tunnel really feels like. We’ll be discussing the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel, how you know if you have it, and what comes next.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
CTS is caused by compression of the median nerve, which is the main nerve in the arm that runs from the forearm to the hand. This nerve is responsible for supplying sensations to these parts of the body. Numbness and tingling are some of the most common symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. These sensations are not confined to the hand and wrist, with Carpal Tunnel the tingling and numbness can be felt (in some patients) from the fingertips all the way up to the shoulders. However, these symptoms are typically more concentrated in the fingers and thumb. The severity of this discomfort typically worsens over the course of the day as you continue to use your hands more and more, or when gripping and squeezing.
As your symptoms worsen and CTS becomes more severe, you may lose some strength in the hands and wrist or the ability to hold on to objects. The compression of the median nerve can make your muscle responses weaker, reducing your power and precision. Paired with numbness, this weakening effect makes it difficult to grasp or continuously hold on to various objects, or can make opening things more difficult. This weakness does progress along with the severity of the condition.
While Carpal Tunnel can cause pain in the hand and up the arm, the pain experienced can be very different from other conditions of the hand and wrist. Typically, with CTS the unpleasantness is associated with a pins and needles feeling, burning sensation or a shock that can run from the hand all the way up the arm. These painful spells come and go, depending on overuse of the hands and wrist but can be persistent as the condition worsens over time.
Experiencing the above symptoms? Time to see a hand specialist. After reviewing your symptoms and your daily activities, your physician will perform a physical examination on the hands/wrist. This physical exam consists of different hand and wrist movements in an attempt to trigger Carpal Tunnel symptoms. If the physical exam is consistent with CTS, your doctor will also order a few tests to confirm the Carpal Tunnel diagnosis.
Nearly everyone will have an x-ray taken of some part of their body at some point in their life. X-rays are a radiological test used to examine internal features of the body; in orthopedics, typically bones and joints. Because Carpal Tunnel is a nerve condition, x-rays cannot diagnose if you have CTS. Physician’s will typically order an x-ray in order to rule out other hand and wrist conditions as a cause of your hand pain and numbness.
Electromyography or EMG is a diagnostic test that assesses the muscles and nerves of the body and the most common exam to confirm Carpal Tunnel. During the procedure, little electrodes and needles are placed at the hand and wrist to measure electrical impulses through the nerves and muscles. This study helps physicians determine if you have Carpal Tunnel or some other type of nerve disorder and how the nerves and muscles are being affected by the condition (such as muscle weakness and early signs of nerve damage). While some people fear that the EMG will be painful, most patients report only mild discomfort during the procedure.
Your hand specialist diagnoses you with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, so what’s next? Your doctor will recommend a different course of treatment based on the severity of your symptoms. In mild cases, sometimes rest, medication, bracing and prevention techniques can be the right solution. This option is also commonly used for pregnant women experiencing pregnancy Carpal Tunnel since the condition is a secondary reaction to their pregnancy and tends to be temporary. You can learn more about Carpal Tunnel during pregnancy here. Your doctor may even recommend occupational therapy to help strengthen the hand and provide guidance on stretching routines. However, if non-invasive methods are unsuccessful or if the condition is more severe, your physician will likely recommend surgery as the most promising option. Read our blog all about Carpal Tunnel Surgery here.
Do these symptoms sound familiar to you?
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