Carpal tunnel syndrome


Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome

When you visit Dignity Health, an orthopedic doctor will review your medical history and examine your hands, wrists, and arms for signs of carpal tunnel. One common test looks for something called “Tinel sign.” Your doctor will tap or press on the median nerve in your wrist and watch for numbness or tingling in your fingertips.

Your doctor may also ask you to close your eyes and then lightly touch your fingertips with an instrument. This exercise tests your sensation and checks your grip strength and the strength of the muscles around the thumb.

The physical exam will help your doctor confirm the severity and rule out related conditions, such as arthritis. Diagnostic tests like x-ray, electromyography (EMG), and nerve conduction studies (NCS) may also be used to help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Treatment

Your treatment for carpal tunnel will take place at a Dignity Health hospital or outpatient care center. Your doctor will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that suits your needs.

Carpal tunnel treatment may include:

  • Treating any underlying conditions like arthritis, menopause, thyroid disorders, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure that could be causing swelling
  • Avoiding tasks that exacerbate symptoms where possible, to give your hand time to recover
  • Learning new ways to position your body or hands while doing tasks that require repetitive movement
  • Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain
  • A wrist splint or brace to support your wrist and hold it in a neutral position (these are often most helpful when worn overnight)
  • Steroid injections for short-term pain relief
  • Hand surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome to increase the size of the carpal tunnel and relieve pressure

Recovery

Most people with carpal tunnel syndrome find pain relief within a few days up to a few weeks with conservative treatment. While symptoms can return if the original cause has not been eliminated, in many cases, the underlying cause of inflammation is addressed and the wrist then heals over time.

In carpal tunnel syndrome cases linked to pregnancy, the pain and numbness will typically resolve after birth.

For carpal tunnel syndrome cases linked to overuse, it may take longer for the inflammation of the tendons and other connective structures to decrease.

If surgery is required, recovery may also take slightly longer and sometimes necessitates physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion. Some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, like weakness and tingling, may not decrease until some time after surgery, but the success rate for carpal tunnel surgery is very high.

Almost all people who experience carpal tunnel syndrome, including severe cases, can eventually find relief through some combination of surgical treatment, anti-inflammatory medication, and pain management.

Dignity Health provides comprehensive treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome as part of our orthopedic services.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.