Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Anatomy of the hand
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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve is compressed as it passes through an opening from the wrist to the hand called the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is formed by the carpal bones on the bottom of the wrist and the transverse carpal ligament across the top of the wrist. Since the median nerve provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and three middle fingers, many symptoms may result.

Facts about carpal tunnel syndrome

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the US. Women develop carpal tunnel syndrome three times more frequently than men. It usually occurs only in adults.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Illustration of hand anatomy of carpal tunnel syndrome
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Most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome have no specific cause, although any or all of the following may serve as a contributing factor:

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

The following are the most common symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, three medical associations agree that electrodiagnostic tests are the most accurate tool for diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome. The American Academy of Neurology, the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine endorse a guideline that states that electrodiagnostic tests provide accurate diagnosis. Electrodiagnostic tests involve the stimulation of muscles and nerves in the hand.

Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome

Specific treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome will be determined by your doctor based on:

Treatment may include:

Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome

In general, the surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is performed in an outpatient location under local or general anesthesia. The surgeon will make an incision in the wrist area. The tissue that is pressing on the nerves will then be cut, in order to decrease the pressure.

After the surgery, the wrist may be immobilized in a large dressing and wrist brace to help stabilize the area. The splint is usually worn continuously for the first two weeks after the surgery, but then is used intermittently for the next month or so. There is a moderate degree of pain in the hand after the surgery, which is usually controlled with pain medications taken orally. The surgeon may also have you keep the affected hand elevated while sleeping at night.

The length of recovery varies for each individual. If the nerve has been compressed for a long period of time, recovery may take longer. Movement of the fingers and wrists are encouraged a few days following surgery to help prevent stiffness.

Your doctor will discuss postoperative activities and restrictions with you.

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