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Hand Surgery: Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: An Orthopedic Perspective

Hand Surgery: Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: An Orthopedic Perspective

Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: An Orthopedic Perspective

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common condition that affects the hand and wrist, leading to discomfort and limitation in daily activities. As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand conditions, I have encountered numerous cases of CTS and have seen firsthand the impact it can have on patients’ quality of life.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The carpal tunnel—a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand—houses the median nerve and tendons. Sometimes, thickening from irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed.

Symptoms of CTS

The symptoms of CTS typically start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers. Some carpal tunnel sufferers may feel a sense of weakness in their hand and have difficulty grasping small objects or performing tasks that require manual dexterity.

Risk Factors

Several factors can contribute to the development of CTS:

  • Repetitive motion: Frequent, repetitive, small movements with the hands (like typing or using hand tools) can exacerbate the wrist’s tendons.
  • Positioning: Activities that involve extreme flexion or extension of the hand and wrist for prolonged periods can increase the pressures within the carpal tunnel, potentially irritating the nerve.
  • Health conditions: Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid gland imbalances are conditions that are associated with CTS.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause swelling in the body, including inside the carpal tunnel.


Diagnosing CTS involves a detailed examination of the hand, wrist, shoulder, and neck to rule out other conditions that might mimic the syndrome. Specific tests, such as the Tinel’s sign or Phalen’s maneuver, are commonly used to evaluate the condition. In some cases, electromyography and nerve conduction studies are necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

The treatment of CTS should ideally start early and can vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying causes. Non-surgical options include:

  • Wrist splinting: Wearing a splint at night can help alleviate nighttime symptoms of numbness and tingling.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids: Injections can provide significant short-term relief.

In cases where conservative treatments do not provide relief, surgical intervention may be considered. The surgery involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. The outcomes are generally positive, with many patients experiencing complete relief from symptoms.


Surgical Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is generally considered when conservative treatments have failed to relieve symptoms, or if there is significant nerve damage. The goal of surgery is to relieve pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms part of the roof of the carpal tunnel, thus enlarging the tunnel and reducing pressure on the nerve.

Type of Surgical Procedures for CTS

Open Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

  • Procedure: This traditional method involves making a small incision (about two inches long) in the wrist or palm, allowing the surgeon direct access to the transverse carpal ligament to cut it. This method provides a clear and direct view of the treated area, which can be beneficial in complex cases.
  • Recovery: The recovery time can be longer compared to endoscopic surgery. Patients might experience some pain and scarring at the incision site. Full recovery and return to normal activities can take several weeks to months.

Choosing the Right Surgical Option

The choice between open and endoscopic carpal tunnel release often depends on several factors:

  • Severity of Symptoms: More severe or complicated cases might benefit from the open approach.
  • Surgeon’s Experience and Expertise: Surgeons may have a preference based on their experience and the outcomes they have achieved with each technique.
  • Patient’s Health and Lifestyle: Factors such as the patient’s overall health, occupation, and lifestyle can influence the choice of procedure.

Both types of surgery are generally effective in relieving the symptoms of CTS. However, as with any surgical procedure, there are risks involved, including infection, nerve damage, and incomplete relief of symptoms. It’s important for patients to discuss all available options, including potential risks and benefits, with their orthopedic surgeon to make an informed decision.

Prevention Tips

Preventative measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing CTS:

  • Ergonomic adjustments: Set up workstations that promote a neutral wrist position.
  • Frequent breaks: Take breaks to stretch and bend the wrists.
  • Strengthening exercises: Perform exercises to strengthen the muscles of the hands and wrists.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, if diagnosed and treated early, can be effectively managed without long-term damage to the nerve. Awareness and early intervention are key to managing this pervasive condition.

For those experiencing any symptoms described, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider or a specialist in orthopedic hand conditions for a thorough evaluation and appropriate management.

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