Carolinas HealthCare System
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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Avoiding It and Treating It

Carpal tunnel syndrome is painful and debilitating. Learn how to avoid it and what you can do to treat the symptoms.

Carpal tunnel has been a bit of a buzzword around offices for years. But many people don’t know exactly what it is, what causes it or how to treat it. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a nervous – not muscular – disorder that develops in the wrist when the tissues in the wrist swell and press on the median nerve, causing discomfort or pain.

CTS is often associated with a family history of the disorder and can develop from a number of causes, including:

  • Work that involves high force or vibration
  • Repetitive use of the hand and wrist
  • Swimming
  • Weightlifting
  • Bicycling
  • Tennis
Tame the Pain

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You may also be stressing your wrist unconsciously. Smiresh S. Shah, MD, a hand surgeon at Carolinas HealthCare System, said some people sleep with their wrists in a flexed position, which can also cause CTS-related discomfort.

CTS can be painful, annoying and even debilitating, limiting your ability to work effectively, exercise and perform daily tasks. Fortunately, there are several proven methods to prevent CTS, as well as a number of effective treatments to alleviate symptoms if you do develop it.

Anthony Martin, MD, a primary care and sports medicine specialist at Carolinas HealthCare System, said the best way to avoid developing CTS is to ensure you use proper form in daily activities – especially if you work at a desk for extended periods of time. “An adjustment of body mechanics can help decrease the pressure on the median nerve,” said Dr. Martin. “Anything that places the wrist in a prolonged, flexed position may compress that nerve.” If you start experiencing discomfort at your desk, Dr. Martin recommends changing the height of your keyboard or using an ergonomic keyboard. A padded wrist rest may relieve stress from your wrists as you work.

For people who do develop CTS, there are several effective treatments, including:

  • Wearing wrist splints at night
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) including aspirin, Motrin and Advil
  • Wearing a wrist brace while working

If these options don’t help, your doctor may recommend CTS injections. During a normal office visit, your doctor will inject a steroid derivative of cortisone directly into the carpal tunnel, to reduce inflammation and alleviate some of your discomfort.

If none of these treatments help relieve the symptoms, surgery is also an option. “If weakness is progressing and function of the hand is [affected], surgery should be considered,” said Dr. Martin.
Dr. Shah said about 90 percent of surgical procedures to treat CTS result in “good to excellent” outcomes, but he cautioned that waiting too long to seek treatment might negatively affect your results.

Think you may be suffering from CTS?

Call 704-863-HURT or visit our website to schedule an appointment with Dr. Martin or one of his colleagues at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sports Medicine & Injury Care. Our physicians will work with you to determine the cause of your pain and how best to treat it. And, if you do require surgery, they will help you find a surgeon who’s right for you.