Healthy Workplace: when to consider treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome

By: John Sauer, M.D.
December 1, 2017

Some people might think that carpal tunnel syndrome is a new condition of the information technology age, born from long hours of computer keyboarding.  But carpal tunnel syndrome is nothing new. Evidence of people experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in medical records dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.

What is carpal tunnel?

Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway — about as big around as your thumb — located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve to your hand and nine tendons that bend your fingers. Pressure placed on the nerve produces the numbness, pain, and eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome.

Dr. John Sauer

Fortunately, for most people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, proper treatment usually can relieve the pain and numbness and restore normal use of the wrists and hands.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel?

Carpal tunnel syndrome typically starts gradually, with a vague aching in your wrist that can extend to your hand or forearm. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Tingling or numbness in your fingers or hand
  • Pain radiating or extending from your wrist up your arm to your shoulder or down into your palm or fingers
  • A sense of weakness in your hands, and a tendency to drop objects
  • A constant loss of feeling

What are treatment options for carpal tunnel?Some people with mild symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can ease their discomfort by taking more frequent hand-rest breaks and applying cold packs to reduce occasional swelling. Other options for treatment may involve special types of physical therapy, heat, massage and other relaxation techniques.

If signs and symptoms that you think might be due to carpal tunnel syndrome interfere with your normal activities — including sleep — and they persist, see your health care team.  If diagnosed early, there are many non-surgical options to help improve carpal tunnel symptoms, such as wrist splinting, taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug or receiving a cortisone injection to relieve pain. If the symptoms do not respond to the non-surgical treatment methods, surgery may be an option as if the condition is left untreated, nerve and muscle damage can occur.

Want to learn more about carpal tunnel?To learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome or other upper extremity conditions, please schedule a consultation with an orthopedic provider.

John Sauer, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon who sees patients at Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna and Faribault.

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