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Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Doctor Q&A

Hand Surgeon with Shawnee Mission Hand Specialty Center

Imagine going through a day when simple tasks, such as texting, turning a steering wheel, or even writing a note, are difficult. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, you may experience one or all of these hardships on a daily basis. Carpal tunnel causes pressure on the median nerve in the wrist, which can lead to symptoms such as swelling, numbness, pain, and even weakness.

Are you at risk?

If you answer “yes” to any of the following, you could be at increased risk for the condition:

  • Do you do repetitive work? Working along an assembly line or doing a job that requires frequent grasping or gripping activity can put extra pressure on your wrists and irritate your median nerve. In fact, assemblers are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel than data-entry personnel.
  • Do you have an inflammatory condition? Rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions causing inflammation may affect your wrist tendons and lead to additional pressure on your median nerve.
  • Do you suffer from nerve damage? Diabetes and other chronic diseases may increase your risk for nerve damage, including your median nerve.
  • Do you often retain fluid? Pregnancy, obesity, and thyroid disorders can sometimes lead to swelling that may increase pressure and irritate the median nerve.

Typically, the condition is diagnosed through a combination of patient history, physical exam, and electromyogram, which is electrical testing that measures muscle activity to help determine if damage to the area has occurred.

Take steps to prevent carpal tunnel

In the workplace, there are several preventive steps you can take to lower your risk of developing carpal tunnel.

  • Take breaks to rest and stretch your wrists. Try these preventive exercises next time you’re at work.
  • It’s important that your hands stay warm and flexible. Wearing fingerless gloves can help if your work environment is chilly.
  • Research and obtain ergonomic workstations or tools that complement your line of work.

Carpal tunnel treatment options

If you develop carpal tunnel, there are several treatment options available depending on the severity of your symptoms. Options you can find at Shawnee Mission Health include:

  • Conservative treatments – These options are most effective for patients with mild symptoms and may include anti-inflammatory drugs, splinting and steroid injections.
  • Carpal tunnel release – During this outpatient procedure, an incision is made on the patient’s palm to cut through the ligament and release the median nerve. Although activity is restricted until swelling goes down, recovery tends to be quick. Patients are allowed to progressively begin using their hand and quickly regain function after surgery.
  • Endoscopic surgery – This minimally invasive procedure is conducted through two small incisions – one in the wrist and one in the palm. It is similar to carpal tunnel release but the smaller incisions mean there is a shorter recovery period allowing patients a faster return to full activity.

SMH’s Hand Specialty Center specializes exclusively in treating hand and wrist conditions. We have more than 25 years of experience in identifying and treating hand conditions. Along with treating carpal tunnel syndrome, we can address the full spectrum of hand problems including nerve compression, hand trauma and arthritis.