The first thing you notice is a tingling in your fingers. Then the tingling turns into numbness, weakness and pain in your hands and wrists. You drop things. You may find that it’s painful to type, do carpentry, knit or even play a musical instrument. The symptoms often start while your sleeping and then progress into your daytime activities.
These are the classic symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). CTS occurs when the tissues and tendons around the median nerve in your wrist swell and put pressure on it. Most cases of CTS are caused by repetitive motion such as typing or using a cash register all day.
The physicians at the Kennedy Center recommend that you treat CTS in the early stages – waiting only makes the problem worse and more difficult to manage.
Step 1: Get an Accurate Diagnosis
CTS is known as a ‘repetitive motion injury’ but can by caused by a variety of medical conditions – even pregnancy can cause it on a temporary basis. Typically, our doctors will order a nerve conduction test (EMG) to see exactly what the individual patient’s problem is. Once the cause of your CTS is diagnosed, a treatment plan can be developed.
Step 2: Non-surgical Treatment
If your CTS is not severe, the Kennedy Center doctors may recommend the following non-surgical therapies:
- Bracing or Splinting – Wearing a brace that keeps your wrist in a neutral or straight position will take the pressure off the median nerve in your wrist. It’s especially important to wear a brace while you’re sleeping. It will help keep you from sleeping on your hand and wrist and will maintain the neutral position during the night.
- Take a mini- break – Experts agree that if you have CTS and work with your hands all day, it’s important to rest them every 15 minutes. Relax your arms and shoulders and stretch your hands and wrists before getting back to the job.
- Take a break #2 – If possible, take a complete break from a repetitive task. If you’re a knitter or do beading, stop for a month or more and see if your symptoms improve. We understand that if you work with your hands for a living, taking a complete break is harder to do so try mini-breaks.
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs like Aleve, ibuprofin or other NSAID’s as your doctor recommends.
- Cortisone Injections – These injections reduce the swelling around the median nerve and normally provide temporary relief of your pain.
Step 3: Surgery
If you and your doctor have tried all the non-surgical options and your symptoms remain severe, you may want to consider surgery. Surgery consists of a simple incision where the tissue in your wrist is cut to permanently relieve the pressure on your nerve. This is done on an outpatient basis so you can sleep in your own bed that night. People normally return to work in 4 weeks – oftentimes sooner. Talk with your surgeon about what your healing process and timeline will be.
Step 4: Live With Less Pain
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is very common especially among women and older adults. But it doesn’t have to limit what you do with your life. We strongly urge you to take the early warning signs seriously and get professional help to stop the progression of CTS before it becomes severe.
Contact the experienced physicians at the Kennedy Center at Ascension Mercy Hospital for your personal evaluation.