Welcome back to part 2 of our series on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! Today, we’ll take a brief look at how carpal tunnel is diagnosed, as well as the treatment options available to our patients.
Let’s start with how this painful disorder is diagnosed. As with the diagnosis of anything, early diagnosis and treatment is important. The earlier Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caught, the sooner treatment can begin, which lessens the likelihood of any permanent nerve damage. And, even though carpal tunnel syndrome is a very common cause of pain, weakness, and numbness in the hand(s), it’s not the only cause. This makes seeing your doctor sooner – as opposed to later – even more important.
So, onto the diagnosis. Your orthopaedic surgeon will start with a physical examination of your hands and fingers, and will examine your arms, shoulders, and neck, too. Because of the fact that there are other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important that a thorough examination (and any additional testing) take place. Your orthopaedic surgeon will test each finger for sensation and will examine the muscles at the base of your hand(s) to check for strength (or loss thereof). Laboratory studies, as well as imaging (such as x-rays and MRI’s) may be added on as well to help rule out any other underlying causes such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or a fracture. Electrodiagnostic tests are often conducted, as well, often times as a way to confirm the diagnosis.
When it comes to the treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, both surgical and nonsurgical options exist. Nonsurgical treatment would include the use of anti-inflammatory medication(s), steroids (which can be taken orally or injected directly into the joint), and physical/occupational therapy to help stretch and strengthen the joint(s).
If symptoms are severe and long lasting, then your orthopaedic surgeon may suggest surgery to correct the problem. In fact, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the United States. There is an “open release” method which involves making an incision along the wrist and cutting the carpal ligament to help enlarge the carpal tunnel. This procedure can generally allow patients to resume normal activities in a shorter amount of time.
One important thing to note about carpal tunnel release is that, even though immediate relief may be felt after the procedure, full recovery from the surgery typically takes several months. Most patients also attend physical therapy after the procedure to help ensure that proper strength is regained. Fortunately, the recurrence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome following carpal tunnel release is quite rare.