Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most common nerve entrapment syndrome, affecting anywhere from 3-5% of the general population. If you’re a part of that percentage, you know that carpal tunnel syndrome can be frustrating and downright disruptive.
Although we tend to think of CTS as being a repetitive motion disorder only, there are multiple possible causes, including but not limited to injury, trauma, tendinitis, pregnancy and age.
Once you have been diagnosed with CTS, and depending upon the severity of your case, you have a few treatment options available to you before making the jump to a surgical procedure. I am an advocate for trying conservative treatments before surgical whenever possible, so here we go!
Lifestyle Modification | If your CTS has been caused by repetitive motion or some other reason related to daily life, changing some things throughout your day can be helpful in limiting symptoms. If your job consists of constant typing, take small breaks throughout the day and make sure you are sitting in an ergonomic position while typing.
Unfortunately, there are times when the only real way to stop the symptoms is to change jobs, but that is so much easier said than done, I know. If you can’t do that, you can try:
Splinting | A wrist brace/splint can be very helpful for lessening the symptoms of CTS depending on the cause. It is best to use one that allows your hand to rest in a neutral position and to be fastened just tight enough, but not too tight that you lose circulation. They can be worn at night while you sleep or while at work.
Before I was officially diagnosed, a wrist brace was the only thing that gave me noticeable improvement and now that I have arthritis in my wrist, I still use mine from time to time.
Medications | Although controversial, some physicians will suggest taking pyridoxine (vitamin B6) for symptoms arising from carpal tunnel syndrome because it affects neural function. Other options include NSAIDs (anti-inflammatories) like Aleve or ibuprofen, or oral steroids like a Medrol Dosepak.
Fun fact: I can’t take steroid packs because they make me super depressed and suicidal. That’s why I can’t take certain anti-depressants. My brain is so great.
Steroid Injections | If you’ve tried all of the above without benefit, you may want to try a steroid injection. Your physician will inject a steroid (each physician has their preferred steroid of choice), along with a numbing agent into the affected area. As an anti-inflammatory, an injection can be much more effective than oral steroids, as it is delivered directly to the inflamed area.
This can take a few days to show results, but it can be very effective, depending on the amount of damage done to the nerve. I know it’s anecdotal, but in the office in which I work, we have had patients get injections and go years without needing further treatment.
As I said, I am all about trying conservative treatments first, but sometimes surgery is necessary and if all of the above fails to benefit, that’s probably what you’re looking at.
Luckily, however, today the procedure really isn’t that bad, especially if done with an arthroscope. Below is a series of photos from my recovery; as you can see, there isn’t that much damage.
Even the recovery time isn’t that bad; usually just a week or so until you can go back to light duty. Compared to the other surgeries I’ve had (and other health problems), the carpal tunnel syndrome and treatment was a cakewalk.
I hope this information helps and if you have any questions or comments or stories, let me know!