Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve is compressed or “pinched” as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, causing such symptoms as pain, grip weakness, and numbness and tingling in the fingers.
The median nerve runs the length of your arm, going through a passage in your wrist called the carpal tunnel, and ending in the hand. It provides sensory and motor (movement) functions to your thumb and first 3 fingers.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually occurs in adults, and women are diagnosed with this condition 3 times more often than men.
While many cases of CTS have no specific cause, it is often linked to wrist anatomy, certain health problems, and the use of heavy or vibrating equipment such as a jackhammer. Repetitive hand motions such as typing sometimes contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, but research suggests this is not as common as once thought.
Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome can range from rest, icing and splinting, to oral or injected anti-inflammatory medications and surgery. In fact, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgeries done in the U.S.
Making changes in your work environment, and special strengthening and stretching exercises, can help prevent the condition from worsening or recurring after treatment.
Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause permanent nerve damage, so it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as symptoms appear.
It’s also important to see a specialist because the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may be similar to other conditions such as arthritis, a pinched nerve in the neck, or neuropathy (which can be a complication of diabetes).
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Cooper University Health Care has a team of four fellowship-trained and board-certified or -eligible hand surgeons with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating carpal tunnel syndrome. You can count on us for:
- State-of-the-art diagnostic resources: Cooper is one of the few centers in the region to offer advanced musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSK-US), a much less-invasive technique than electromyogram (EMG) for diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome
- Personalized treatment: Treatment is tailored to the severity of your condition and your overall health, and may include:
- Splinting to keep your wrist from moving and ease nerve compression
- Anti-inflammatory medication that may be oral or injected into the carpal tunnel to reduce swelling
- Hand therapy that includes stretching and strengthening exercises supervised by our certified hand therapist
- Carpal tunnel release surgery, when indicated, to release the ligament that is placing pressure on the median nerve. Cooper’s hand surgeons perform two types of carpal tunnel release surgery:
- Open surgery: The surgeon makes an incision on your wrist to access the carpal tunnel, and cuts the tissue that is pressing on the nerve
- Endoscopic surgery: With this minimally invasive approach, the surgeon inserts a thin rod (scope) through a tiny cut on the wrist; the scope contains a camera and light that enable the surgeon to see inside your wrist and release the compressed nerve using tiny surgical tools
- Leading-edge research: Cooper’s hand surgeons are involved in academic research on carpal tunnel syndrome, ensuring that our patients benefit from the latest knowledge and treatment advances
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when there is pressure on the median nerve. Anything that compresses or irritates this nerve inside the carpal tunnel space may lead to CTS. In many cases, there is no single, specific cause; any of these factors—alone or in combination—may contribute to or increase the risk of getting CTS:
- A wrist fracture, sprain or dislocation
- Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Gender—CTS is more common in women, perhaps because the carpal tunnel area tends to be smaller
- Diabetes and other nerve-damaging conditions
- Hormonal or metabolic changes (for example, menopause, pregnancy, or thyroid imbalance)
- Workplace factors—Frequent, repetitive movements of the hand and wrist (such as with working at a keyboard or on an assembly line), or working with vibrating equipment may be factors in some cases. Scientific evidence isn’t conclusive, however.
- Family history of CTS
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The most common symptoms of CTS, which can affect one or both hands, include:
- Weakness when gripping objects
- Pain or numbness
- Pins-and-needles feeling in the fingers, especially the thumb, index and middle fingers
- Swollen feeling in the fingers
- Worsening of symptoms at night, interrupting sleep
Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Because so many factors can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, there’s no single, proven way to prevent it. But there are strategies that can lessen stress on your hands and wrists:
- Take breaks: Stretch and bend your wrists and hands regularly—forward and backward—and alternate tasks whenever possible, especially if you use vibrating equipment or tools that require you to use a lot of force
- Relax your grip: If you work at a keyboard, hit the keys softly. If you write by hand, use a large pen with an oversized grip adapter.
- Regularly perform hand and wrist exercises: A certified hand therapist can provide guidance on stretching and strengthening exercises; even 5 minutes daily can help
- Mind your form: Use your keyboard at elbow height or slightly lower. Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down; a relaxed position in the middle is best. Consider wearing a wrist splint to keep your wrist in the correct position.
- Maintain good posture: Poor posture causes your shoulders to roll forward, shortening your neck and shoulder muscles and compressing nerves in your neck. This, in turn, can affect your wrists, fingers and hands.
- Keep your hands warm: A cold environment increases the risk of developing hand pain and stiffness. If you can’t turn up the heat, wear fingerless gloves to keep hands and wrists warm.
To learn more about the services available for treating carpal tunnel syndrome at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800-8-COOPER (800-826-6737).
Refer a Patient
If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to Cooper for carpal tunnel syndrome care, please call 800-8-COOPER (800-826-6737).