What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel refers to a small space in the base of the hand which is covered by a thick ligament, creating a small tunnel where various nerves, arteries and tendons pass through the forearm and into the hand. When something causes this space to be reduced, these structures can become compressed and subsequently become damaged, particularly the median nerve. This condition is particularly common and is referred to as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include pain, numbness and weakness in the hand combined with an atypical pattern over the thumb, index and middle finger. Often the individual can experience a reduction in grip strength and decreased tone of the thumb muscles. These symptoms usually flare up upon waking and with repeated hand movements. Pain can also flare up when participating in fine motor skills, such us doing up buttons or writing.
How does it happen?
The root cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is anything that reduces the space in the carpal tunnel, including arthritis, the growth of a cyst or compression from everyday activities. The median nerve is most vulnerable to the effects of compression as it can cause nerve damage and permanent weakness of the hands.
How is it treated?
Non-surgical intervention is initially recommended, these treatment options can include:
- Wearing a splint
- Cortisone or plasma rich platelet injections to promote nerve healing
The results of physiotherapy will be dependent on the cause of your carpal tunnel, if arthritis has permanently reduced the space of the tunnel, surgery to widen and release the carpal tunnel allowing decompression is likely to have the most effective outcome. The surgery is common; however like all surgery presents risks, potential complications and requires time off work for recovery.
For non-surgical cases the physiotherapist can design a specialised program, such as altering the biomechanics of the arm, the mobility of the median nerve and muscle tightness may all be contributing to symptoms. For these cases, physiotherapy combined with a period of rest, splinting and a change of daily habits can be highly effective.
None of the information in this newsletter is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your injury.