Have you ever wondered why your hands hurt? Why you often get numbness or tingling in your hands? Why you have trouble holding onto things or even drop things and don’t realize it? The cause may be more common than you think. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an extremely common problem that affects up to almost 6% of the adult population. It is caused by compression of one of the major nerves in the wrist called the median nerve. When this happens, the signal from your brain can’t efficiently pass through the wrist to the hand causing the symptoms to occur.
People often believe that typing on a keyboard is what brings it on, and are surprised to find out that they have it because they don’t regularly do that activity. The reality is that while repetitive activities and certain traumatic events have been associated with the development of carpal tunnel syndrome, anyone can get it. It is by far the most common condition that any hand surgeon sees in his or her practice. The most common presenting complaints when a patient comes in to the office are numbness and tingling in the hands, often in both hands. What people often do not realize is that it can present itself in many different ways. Sometimes it is pain in the wrists or hands. Sometimes it is pain or an electrical sensation that travels up or down the arms. Sometimes it is symptoms that wake a person from sleep. It can affect one hand or both simultaneously. It can also be associated with other conditions that cause similar symptoms such as neck problems. While numbness is annoying, the real problem is that over time people can develop weakness or paralysis in the muscles that the median nerve feeds. This can lead to people inadvertently dropping things or burning or cutting themselves because they cannot feel what they are touching. It can lead to atrophy, or loss of muscle mass in the hand muscles and can have a profound impact on the use of a person’s hands.
Don’t despair! It is a condition that can easily be diagnosed and treated by a hand surgeon. While people are often afraid to see a hand surgeon to have this evaluated for fear of surgery, there are a number of nonsurgical treatment options that can be tried first that can often lead to improvement or in some cases complete resolution of a person’s symptoms. While there are good treatment options that can be tried, in some cases the dreaded S-word comes in to play. Fear not! These days carpal tunnel surgery in an experienced surgeon’s hands can be done in a minimally invasive way. It is a 10-minute outpatient procedure done endoscopically with a tiny incision in the wrist. This technique leads to less pain and potentially faster recovery and return to normal activity.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it may be worthwhile to have it evaluated. The earlier it is treated, the less likely surgery will be necessary. You might be surprised by how easy it is for you to recover and get your hands back.
By Michael Horowitz, MD FACS
Dr. Michael Horowitz is an experienced hand surgeon who performs minimally invasive endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery at The Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders in Englewood.