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What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

What is Carpal Tunnel?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects one of the main nerves near the wrist – the median nerve. This nerve’s job is to provide feeling to the part of the hand and also move muscles that control the thumb. There are many things that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome although the exact cause is usually unknown. In all cases, the nerve is being compressed at the base of the palm within a space called the carpal tunnel.

The main symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is numbness and or tingling. In most cases, symptoms start gradually and are initially intermittent but as the condition becomes worse, they can be more constant. There can also be pain, swelling, and weakness as the muscles at the base of the thumb shrink in size. For many patients, the symptoms start at night and can interrupt sleep.

The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome can often be made based on the history of symptoms and physical examination. An electrodiagnostic nerve study – which includes an EMG (electromyography) - can help aid in the diagnosis. At MidJersey Orthopedics, we have the capability of performing these tests on site.

There are several treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonoperative treatment of carpal tunnel includes night splinting and steroid injections. These treatments are most effective when the symptoms are present for a short period time, infrequent, and mild. Surgery for carpal tunnel, or carpal tunnel release, can be the most effective and long lasting treatment, especially if symptoms are more severe. Some studies show that 85% of patients who undergo a steroid injection for carpal tunnel surgery end up undergoing surgical treatment within 1 year. Surgery works because it takes pressure off of the nerve immediately. Although no surgery is small, carpal tunnel release is a relatively minor procedure - it typically takes less than 10 minutes. Because of its low risk and high success, over 500,000 carpal tunnel releases are being performed annually in the United States.

At MidJersey Orthopedics, we perform mini-open carpal tunnel releases, which is the safest way to perform a carpal tunnel release. This technique has been shown to have higher success rates than endoscopic treatment options. Endoscopic carpal tunnel release, although less invasive, has a 3-fold increase in need for further surgery within just the first year after surgery.

If you suspect you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, even if the symptoms are tolerable, it is important to seek prompt medical care. This is because mild or moderate carpal tunnel is usually curable, but severe carpal tunnel may not be. Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize your risk of long-term damage and allow you to continue to enjoy optimal hand function.

At MidJersey Orthopedics, board certified orthopedic hand specialists can diagnose and treat carpal tunnel syndrome from start to finish. We can perform nerve studies (EMGs) on site and develop a shared treatment plan that fits your goals. If surgery is thought to be the best option for you, that can be done with you awake or under anesthesia (typically light sedation), depending in your preference. Return to work can be as quick as a day depending on the type of work you do. Even those with the most demanding jobs, such as manual laborers, can typically return to heavy duty 3 weeks after surgery.

Call the MidJersey Orthopaedics office in Flemington, Washington, or Bridgewater, New Jersey, today to schedule your consultation. You can also book an appointment online.

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