So, what, exactly, is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Well, it’s the result of the median nerve – which runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand – becoming compressed at the wrist. This can happen because, to get from the forearm to the hand, the nerve must pass through the “carpal tunnel”, which is a narrow passageway comprised of both bone and ligaments and is located at the base of the hand. For a variety of reasons, the tunnel can narrow and compress the nerve…leading to weakness, pain, and numbness that can affect the entire arm (as opposed to just the hand and wrist).
Carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t typically caused by a problem with the median nerve itself but, instead, tends to be the result of a combination of factors – factors that wind up increasing the amount of pressure that is exerted on the nerve. For some individuals, the carpal tunnel is simply smaller than it is in other individuals; for instance, women tend to have a smaller carpal tunnel than men. Also, any type of trauma that occurs to the wrist (such as a break or sprain) can cause swelling that places undue pressure on the nerve.
Other contributing factors include chronic illnesses that include rheumatoid arthritis (which causes inflammation), diabetes (which causes nerve damage), menopause, thyroid disorders, and kidney failure. Spending a lot of time working with vibrating tools or doing anything that required prolonged and repetitive flexing of the wrist(s) can put pressure on the nerve and/or worsen damage that’s already occurred.
One of the most frustrating parts about carpal tunnel syndrome is that, many times, there is no identifiable cause. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no treatment. In fact, both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options exist and, following a diagnosis, those will be things that your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with you.
Make sure to check back for part 2 in this series where we’ll talk a little bit about how carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, as well as the treatment options (again, both surgical and nonsurgical) that exist today. If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, please don’t hesitate to give Prairie Orthopaedic and Plastic Surgery a call to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hurlbut or Dr. Machado.