The carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of either wrist. The tunnel is a tight passageway that the medial nerve runs through. That nerve controls thumb movement and the movement of the index, middle, and ring fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive disorder that can cause debilitating pain in the wrists and hands. The condition begins when the median nerve becomes entrapped and compressed. The nerve then swells, and a person will feel pain, numbness, and tingling. Some people who have developed carpal tunnel syndrome will have difficulty grasping objects or even buttoning a shirt. The condition is most often associated with data entry personnel and production workers, especially if vibrating tools are used for prolonged periods of time. If carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t timely and properly treated, permanent damage can result in one or both of a person’s hands.
There are a wide variety of options for treating carpal tunnel syndrome, but what helps one person might not be effective on somebody else. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like Advil or ibuprofen along with icing an affected wrist for 15 minutes is a form of conservative treatment that a person can do at home. Other people find that soaking the affected wrist in warm water helps. A splint that holds a person’s wrist motionless while he or she sleeps is also a commonly used form of conservative carpal tunnel syndrome treatment. Not only does wrist splinting relieve pain, but it also reduces inflammation of the median nerve. A physician might also want to try injections of corticosteroids. These also relieve pain and reduce median nerve swelling.
If there is no improvement from conservative treatment, there are two basic surgical options. The first is endoscopic surgery that is intended to relieve pressure on the median nerve. A scope is used for purposes of being able to see inside of the carpal tunnel after an incision is made in the palm of the affected hand. The surgeon then cuts through the carpal ligament, and the median nerve is released. Open surgery involves a larger incision and cutting through the actual carpal tunnel in order to release the median nerve. This procedure is likely to take longer to heal.
Depending on the incision size and the type of surgery performed, recovery time from carpal tunnel surgery can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months.