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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Definition

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an entrapment neuropathy of the wrist. It occurs when the median nerve, which runs through the wrist and enervates the thumb, pointer finger, middle finger and the thumb side of the ring finger, is aggravated because of compression. Symptoms include numbness, tingling and pain in the fingers the median nerve sensitizes. Some people have difficulty grasping items and may have pain radiating up the arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome is common in people who work on assembly lines, doing heavy lifting and packing involving repetitive motions. Other repetitive movements such as typing are often implicated in cause carpal tunnel syndrome, however some clinical evidence contradicts this association. Additional causes of the syndrome include pregnancy, diabetes, obesity or simply wrist anatomy in which the carpal tunnel is narrow. Treatment includes immobilization with a splint or in severe cases surgery to release the compression of the median nerve.

Description

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by a compression of the median nerve in the wrist, a condition known as nerve entrapment. Nerve entrapments occur when a nerve that travels through a passage between bones and cartilage becomes irritated because a hard edge presses against it. In almost every case of nerve entrapment, one side of the passage is moveable and the repetitive rubbing exacerbates the injury.

Three sides of the carpal tunnel are made up of three bones that form a semicircle around the back of the wrist. The fourth side of the carpal tunnel is made up of the transverse carpal tunnel ligament also called the palmar carpal ligament, which runs across the wrist on the same side as the palm. This ligament is made of tissue that cannot stretch or contract, making the cross sectional area of the carpal tunnel a fixed size. Running through the carpal tunnel are nine tendons that assist the muscles that move the hand and the median nerve. The median nerve enervates the thumb, forefinger, middle finger, and the thumb side of the ring finger. The ulnar nerve that serves the little finger side of the ring finger and the little finger runs outside of the transverse carpal tunnel ligament and is therefore less likely to become entrapped in the wrist.

The tendons that run through the carpal tunnel are encased in a lubricating substance called tensynovium. This substance can become swollen when the tendons rub quickly against one another, as occurs when the finger muscles are used repeatedly. When this happens, there is less space within the carpal tunnel for the median nerve and it becomes compressed or pinched.

When a nerve is compressed, the blood supply to the nerve is interrupted. In an attempt to alleviate the problem, the body's immune system sends new cells called fibroblasts to the area to try to build new tissue. This eventually results in scar tissue around the nerve. In an area that cannot expand this only worsens the situation and puts more pressure on the nerve. A compressed nerve can be likened to an electrical wire that has been crimped. It cannot transmit electrical signals to the brain properly and the result is a feeling of numbness, tingling or pain in the areas that the nerve enervates.

Compression of the median nerve causes tingling and numbness in the thumb, forefinger, middle finger and on the thumb-side of the fourth finger. It may also cause pain in the forearm and occasionally into the shoulder. Some persons have a difficult time gripping and making a fist.

People who suffer from CTS range from those who are mildly inconvenienced and must wear a splint at night to relieve pressure on the median nerve to those who are severely debilitated and lose use of their hands. Problems associated with CTS can invade a person's life making even simple tasks such as answering the phone, reading a book or opening a door extremely difficult. In severe cases, surgery to release the median nerve is often suggested by an orthopedist. The carpal tunnel ligament is cut, relieving the pressure within the carpal tunnel. Rates of success are quite high with the surgical procedure.

Demographics

Carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in women than in men, perhaps because the carpal tunnel generally has a smaller cross section in women than in men. The ratio of women to men who suffer from CTS is about three to one. CTS is most often diagnosed in people who are between 30 and 50 years old. It is more likely to occur in people whose professions require heavy lifting and repetitive movements of the hands such as manufacturing, packing, cleaning and finishing work on textiles.

Causes and symptoms

Carpal tunnel syndrome may occur when anything causes the size of the carpal tunnel to decreases or when anything puts pressure on the median nerve. Often the cause is simply the result of an individual's anatomy; some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others. Trauma or injury to the wrist, such as bone breakage or dislocation can cause CTS if the carpal tunnel is narrowed either by the new position of the bones or by associated swelling. Development of a cyst or tumor in the carpal tunnel will also result in increased pressure on the median nerve and likely CTS. Systemic problems that result in swelling may also cause CTS such as hypothyroidism, problems with the pituitary gland, and the hormonal imbalances that occur during pregnancy and menopause. Arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, may also cause CTS. Some patients with diabetes may be more susceptible to CTS because they already suffer from nerve damage. Obesity and cigarette smoking are thought to aggravate symptoms of CTS.

Much evidence suggests that one of the more common causes of CTS involves performing repetitive motions such as opening and closing of the hands or bending of the wrists or holding vibrating tools. Motions that involve weights or force are thought to be particularly damaging. For example, the types of motions that assembly line workers perform such as packing meat, poultry or fish, sewing and finishing textiles and garments, cleaning, and manufacturing are clearly associated with CTS. Other repetitive injury disorders such as data entry while working on computers are also implicated in CTS. However, some clinical data contradicts this finding. These studies show that computer use can result in bursitis and tendonitis, but not CTS. In fact, a 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic found that people who used the computer up to seven hours a day were no more likely to develop CTS than someone who did not perform the type of repetitive motions required to operate a keyboard.

The two major symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling in the thumb, forefinger, middle finger and the thumb side of the fourth finger and a dull aching pain extending from the wrist through the shoulder. The pain often worsens at night because most people sleep with flexed wrists, which puts additional pressure on the median nerve. Eventually the muscles in the hands will weaken, in particular, the thumb will tend to lose strength. In severe cases, persons suffering from CTS are unable to differentiate between hot and cold temperatures with their hands.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a physical exam of the hands, wrists and arms. The physician will note any swelling or discoloration of the skin and the muscles of the hand will be tested for strength. If the patient reports symptoms in the first four fingers, but not the little finger, then CTS is indicated. Two special tests are used to reproduce symptoms of CTS: the Tinel test and the Phalen test. The Tinel test involves a physician taping on the median nerve. If the patient feels a shock or a tingling in the fingers, then he or she likely has carpal tunnel syndrome. In the Phalen test, the patient is asked to flex his or her wrists and push the backs of the hands together. If the patient feels tingling or numbness in the hands within one minute, then carpal tunnel syndrome is the likely cause.

A variety of electronic tests are used to confirm CTS. Nerve conduction velocity studies (NCV) are used to measure the speed with which an electrical signal is transferred along the nerve. If the speed is slowed relative to normal, it is likely that the nerve is compressed. Electromyography involves inserting a needle into the muscles of the hand and converting the muscle activity to electrical signals. These signals are interpreted to indicate the type and severity of damage to the median nerve. Ultrasound imaging can also be used to visualize the movement of the median nerve within the carpal tunnel. X rays can be used to detect fractures in the wrist that may be the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also a useful tool for visualizing injury to the median nerve.

Treatment team

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome usually involves a physician specializing in the bones and joints (orthopedist) or a neurologist , along with physical and occupational therapists, and if necessary, a surgeon.

Treatment

Lifestyle changes are often the first type of treatment prescribed for carpal tunnel syndrome. Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms is one of the primary ways to manage CTS. These activities include weight-bearing repetitive hand movements and holding vibrating tools. Physical or occupational therapy is also used to relieve symptoms of CTS. The therapist will usually train the patient to use exercises to reduce irritation in the carpal tunnel and instruct the patient on proper posture and wrist positions. Often a doctor or therapist will suggest that a patient wear a brace that holds the arm in a resting position, especially at night. Many people tend to sleep with their wrists flexed, which decreases the space for the median nerve within the carpal tunnel. The brace keeps the wrist in a position that maximizes the space for the nerve.

Doctors may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the swelling in the wrist and relieve pressure on the median nerve. Oral steroids are also useful for decreasing swelling. Some studies have shown that large quantities of vitamin B-6 can reduce symptoms of CTS, but this has not been confirmed. Injections of corticosteroids into the carpal tunnel may also be used to reduce swelling and temporarily provide some extra room for the median nerve.

Surgery can be used as a final step to relieve pressure on the median nerve and relieve the symptoms of CTS. There are two major procedures in use, both of which involve cutting the transverse carpal tunnel ligament. Dividing this ligament relieves pressure on the median nerve and allows blood flow to the nerve to increase. With time,

the nerve heals and as it does so, the numbness and pain in the arm are reduced.

Open release surgery is the standard for severe CTS. In this procedure, a surgeon will open the skin down the front of the palm and wrist. The incision will be about two inches long stretching towards the fingers from the lowest fold line on the wrist. Then next incision is through the palmar fascia, which is a thin connective tissue layer just below the skin, but above the transverse carpal ligament. Finally, being careful to avoid the median nerve and the tendons that pass through the carpal tunnel, the surgeon carefully cuts the transverse carpal ligament. This releases pressure on the median nerve.

Once the transverse carpal tunnel ligament is divided, the surgeon stitches up the palma fascia and the skin, leaving the ends of the ligament loose. Over time, the space between the ends of the ligament will be joined with scar tissue. The resulting space, which studies indicate is approximately 26% greater than prior to the surgery, is enlarged enough so that the median nerve is no longer compressed.

A second surgical method for treatment of CTS is endoscopic carpal tunnel release. In this newer technique, a surgeon makes a very small incision below the crease of the wrist just below the carpal ligament. Some physicians will make another small incision in the palm of the hand, but the single incision technique is more commonly used. The incision just below the carpal ligament allows the surgeon to access the carpal tunnel. He or she will then insert a plastic tube with a slot along one side, called a cannula, into the carpal tunnel along the median nerve just underneath the carpal ligament. Next an endoscope, which is a small fiber-optic cable that relays images of the internal structures of the wrist to a television screen, is fed through the cannula. Using the endoscope, the surgeon checks that the nerves, blood vessels and tendons that run through the carpal tunnel are not in the way of the cannula. A specialized scalpel is fed through the cannula. This knife is equipped with a hook on the end that allows the surgeon to cut as he or she pulls the knife backward. The surgeon positions this knife so that it will divide the carpal ligament as he pulls it out of the cannula. Once the knife is pulled through the cannula, the carpal ligament is severed, but the palma fascia and the skin are not cut. Just as in the open release surgery, cutting the carpal ligament releases the pressure on the median nerve. Over time, scar tissue will form between the ends of the carpal ligament. After the cannula is removed from the carpal tunnel, the surgeon will stitch the small incision in patient's wrist and the small incision in the palm if one was made.

The two different surgical techniques for treating CTS have both positive and negative attributes and the technique used depends on the individual case. In open release, the surgeon has a clear view of the anatomy of the wrist and can make sure that the division of the transverse ligament is complete. He or she can also see exactly which structures to avoid while making the incision. On the other hand, because the incision to the exterior is much larger than in endoscopic release, recovery time is usually longer. While the symptoms of CTS usually improve rapidly, the pain associated with the incision may last for several months. Many physicians feel that the recovery time associated with endoscopic release is faster than that for open release because the incision in the skin and palma fascia are so much smaller. On the other hand, endoscopic surgery is more expensive and requires training in the use of more technologic equipment. Some believe that are also risks that the carpal ligament may not be completely released and the median nerve may be damaged by the cannula, or the specialized hooked knife. Research is ongoing in an attempt to determine whether open or endoscopic release provides the safest and most successful results.

Success rates of release surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome are extremely high, with a 7090% rate of improvement in median nerve function. There are complications associated with the surgery, although they are generally rare. These include incomplete division of the carpal ligament, pain along the incisions and weakness in the hand. Both the pain and the weakness are usually temporary. Infections following surgery for CTS are reported in less than 5% of all patients.

Recovery and rehabilitation

One day following surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, a patient should begin to move his or her fingers, however gripping and pinching heavy items should be avoided for a month and a half to prevent the tendons that run through the carpal tunnel from disrupting the formation of scar tissue between the ends of the carpal ligament.

After about a month and a half, a patient can begin to see an occupational or physical therapist. Exercises, massage and stretching will all be used to increase wrist strength and range of motion. Eventually, the therapist will prescribe exercises to improve the ability of the tendons within the carpal tunnel to slide easily and to increase dexterity of the fingers. The therapist will also teach the patient techniques to avoid a recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome in the future.

Clinical trials

There are a variety of clinical trials underway that are searching for ways to prevent and treat carpal tunnel syndrome. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) supports this research on CTS. Their website is <http://clinicaltrials.gov/search/term=Carpal+Tunnel+Syndrome>.

One trial seeks to determine which patients will benefit from surgical treatments compared to non-surgical treatments using a new magnetic resonance technique. The study is seeking patients with early, mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. Contact Brook I. Martin at the University of Washington for more information. The phone number is (206) 6160982 and the email is bim@u.washington.edu.

A second trial compares the effects of the medication amitriptyline, acupuncture , and placebos for treating repetitive stress disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The study is located at Harvard University. For information contact Ted Kaptchuk at (617) 6652174 or tkaptchu@caregroup.harvard.edu.

A third study is evaluating the effects of a protective brace for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome in people who use tools that vibrate in the workplace. The brace is designed to absorb the energy of the vibrations while remaining unobtrusive. For information on this study contact Prosper Benhaim at the UCLA Hand Center. The phone number is (310) 2064468 and the email address is pbenhaim@mednet.ucla.edu.

Prognosis

Persons with carpal tunnel syndrome can usually expect to gain significant relief from prescribed surgery, treatments, exercises, and positioning devices.

Resources

BOOKS

Johansson, Phillip. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries. Brookshire, TX: Enslow Publishers, Inc. 1999.

Shinn, Robert, and Ruth Aleskovsky. The Repetitive Strain Injury Handbook. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2000.

OTHER

"Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (February 11, 2004). http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/brochure/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=5&topcategory=Hand.

"Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet." National Instititute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (February 11, 2004). <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/healt_and_medical/disorders/carpal_tunnel.htm>.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA). P.O. Box 850, Rocklin, CA 95677. (916) 632-0922 or (800) 533-3231. ACPA@pacbell.net. <http://www.theacpa.org>.

National Chronic Pain Outreach Association (NCPOA). P.O. Box 274, Millboro, VA 24460. (540) 862-9437; Fax: (540) 862-9485. ncpoa@cfw.com. <http://www.chronicpain.org>.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Dieseases (NIAMS). National Institutes of Health, Bldg. 31, Rm. 4C05, Bethesda, MD 20892. (301) 496-8188; Fax: (540) 862-9485. ncpoa@cfw.com. <http://www.niams.nih.gov/index.htm>.

Juli M. Berwald, Ph.D.

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Berwald, Juli. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Definition

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder caused by compression at the wrist of the median nerve supplying the hand, causing numbness and tingling.

Description

The carpal tunnel is an area in the wrist where the bones and ligaments create a small passageway for the median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for both sensation and movement in the hand, in particular the thumb and first three fingers. When the median nerve is compressed, an individual's hand will feel as if it has "gone to sleep."

Women between the ages of 30 and 60 have the highest rates of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research has demonstrated that carpal tunnel syndrome is a significant cause of missed work days due to pain . In 1995, about $270 million was spent on sick days taken for pain from repetitive motion injuries.

Causes & symptoms

Compression of the median nerve in the wrist can occur during a number of different conditions, particularly those conditions which lead to changes in fluid accumulation throughout the body. Because the area of the wrist through which the median nerve passes is very narrow, any swelling in the area will lead to pressure on the median nerve. This pressure will ultimately interfere with the nerve's ability to function normally. Pregnancy, obesity , arthritis, certain thyroid conditions, diabetes, and certain pituitary abnormalities all predispose to carpal tunnel syndrome. Other conditions that increase the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome include some forms of arthritis and various injuries to the arm and wrist (including fractures , sprains, and dislocations). Furthermore, activities which cause a person to repeatedly bend the wrist inward toward the forearm can predispose to carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain jobs that require repeated strong wrist motions carry a relatively high risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Injuries of this type are referred to as "repetitive motion" injuries, and are more frequent among secretaries who do a lot of typing, people working at computer keyboards or cash registers, factory workers, and some musicians.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, burning, tingling, and a prickly pin-like sensation over the palm surface of the hand, and into the thumb, forefinger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. Some individuals notice a shooting pain which goes from the wrist up the arm, or down into the hand and fingers. With continued median nerve compression, an individual may begin to experience muscle weakness, making it difficult to open jars and hold objects with the affected hand. Eventually, the muscles of the hand served by the median nerve may begin to grow noticeably smaller (atrophy), especially the fleshy part of the thumb. Untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome may eventually result in permanent

weakness, loss of sensation, or even paralysis of the thumb and fingers of the affected hand.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is made in part by checking to see whether the patient's symptoms can be brought on by holding his or her hand with the wrist bent for about a minute. Wrist x rays are often taken to rule out the possibility of a tumor causing pressure on the median nerve. A physician examining a patient suspected of having carpal tunnel syndrome will perform a variety of simple tests to measure muscle strength and sensation in the affected hand and arm. Further testing might include electromyographic or nerve conduction velocity testing to determine the exact severity of nerve damage. These tests involve stimulating the median nerve with electricity and measuring the resulting speed and strength of the muscle response, as well as recording the speed of nerve transmission across the carpal tunnel. In 2002, a report stated that three medical organizations had concluded that electrodiagnostic studies were the preferred methods of diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome, offering the highest degrees of sensitivity and specificity.

Treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome is initially treated with splints, which support the wrist and prevent it from flexing inward into the position that exacerbates median nerve compression. Some people get significant relief by wearing such splints to sleep at night, while others will need to wear the splints all day, especially if they are performing jobs that stress the wrist.

The activity which caused the condition should be avoided whenever possible. Also, the actions of making a fist, holding objects, and typing should be reduced. The patient's work area should be modified to reduce stress on the body. This may be achieved by correct positioning and with ergonomically designed furniture. Performing hand and wrist exercises periodically throughout the day can be beneficial.

Researchers found that the carpal ligament can be lengthened or released without surgery through osteopathic manipulation and weight loading. Combining the two gives additional benefit because manipulation lengthens the ligament at one end and weight loading increases the length at the other end. Patients can be taught a stretching exercise for self-manipulation of the ligament.

A National Institute of Health (NIH) panel concluded that traditional acupuncture may be a useful alternative or complementary treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. Studies have shown that both laser acupuncture and microamp transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can significantly reduce the pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Both of these therapies are painless. Greater than 90% of the patients treated reported no pain or pain that had been reduced by more than half. Patients in this study were also using Chinese herbal medicines, deep acupuncture (including needle acupuncture), moxibustion , and omega-3 fish oil capsules. All patients were able to return to work and the pain of most patients remained stable for up to two years. Persons over the age of 60 years had a poorer response.

Some studies have shown that persons with carpal tunnel syndrome are deficient in vitamin B6 (pyridoxine ) and that supplementation with this vitamin is beneficial. Carpal tunnel syndrome should improve within two to three months by taking 100 mg three times daily. The patient should consult with his or her physician when taking high doses of this vitamin.

Chinese and homeopathic remedies include:

  • arnica; 30c dose
  • astra essence
  • Rhus toxicodendron; 6c dose
  • Ruta graveolens; 6c dose

Allopathic treatment

Ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to decrease pain and swelling. Diuretics may be used if the syndrome is related to the menstrual cycle. When carpal tunnel syndrome is more advanced, steroids may be injected into the wrist to decrease inflammation.

The most severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome may require surgery to decrease the compression of the median nerve and restore its normal function. Such a repair involves cutting that ligament that crosses the wrist, thus allowing the median nerve more room and decreasing compression. This surgery is done almost exclusively on an outpatient basis and is often performed without the patient having to be made unconscious. Careful injection of numbing medicines (local anesthesia) or nerve blocks (the injection of anesthetics directly into the nerve) create sufficient numbness to allow the surgery to be performed painlessly, without the risks associated with general anesthesia. Recovery from this type of surgery is usually quick and without complications.

In 2002, researchers in the Netherlands reported that after studying about 80 patients over two years, surgery proved more successful than nighttime splints in freeing up compressed nerves of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Many patients in the splint group ended up choosing the surgery option after several months of wearing splints.

Expected results

Without treatment, continued pressure on the median nerve puts the patient at risk for permanent disability in the affected hand. Alternative medicines have been shown to reduce pain. Most people are able to control the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome with splinting and anti-inflammatory agents. For those who go on to require surgery, about 95% will have complete cessation of symptoms.

Prevention

Avoiding or reducing the repetitive motions that put the wrist into a bent position may help to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. People who must work long hours at a computer keyboard, for example, may need to take advantage of recent advances in ergonomics and position the keyboard and computer components in a way that increases efficiency and decreases stress. Early use of a splint may also be helpful for persons whose jobs put them at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Resources

BOOKS

Asbury, Arthur K. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." In Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. edited by Anthony S. Fauci, et al. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Crouch, Tammy. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Stress Injuries. Berkeley, CA: Frog, 1995.

PERIODICALS

Branco, Kenneth, and Margaret A. Naeser. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Clinical Outcome After Low-Level Laser Acupuncture, Microamps Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and Other Alternative Therapies-An Open Protocol Study." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 5 (1999):5-26.

Brody, Jane E. "Experts on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Say that Conservative Treatment is the Best First Approach." The New York Times. 119 (February 28, 1996): B9+.

"Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." Postgraduate Medicine 98 no. 3 (September 1995): 216.

Glazer, Sarah. "Repetitive Stress Injury: A Modern Malady." The Washington Post 110 (March 12, 1996): WH12.

"Guidelines Promote Electrodiagnostic Studies for CTS." Case Management Advisor (August 2002): S1.

Lucas, B. "Nonsurgical Technique for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." Patient Care 33 (March 15, 1999):12.

Seiler, John Gray. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Update on Diagnostic Testing and Treatment Options" Consultant. 37 no. 5 (May 1997):1233+.

"Surgery Beats Splints for Wrist Syndrome." Science News (September 28, 2002): 205.

ORGANIZATIONS

Association for Repetitive Motion Syndromes. P.O. Box 514, Santa Rosa, CA 95402. (707) 571-0397.

Belinda Rowland

Teresa G. Odle

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Definition

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder caused by compression at the wrist of the median nerve supplying the hand, causing numbness and tingling.

Description

The carpal tunnel is an area in the wrist where the bones and ligaments create a small passageway for the median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for both sensation and movement in the hand, in particular the thumb and first three fingers. When the median nerve is compressed, an individual's hand will feel as if it has "gone to sleep."

Women between the ages of 30 and 60 have the highest rates of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research has demonstrated that carpal tunnel syndrome is a very significant cause of missed work days due to pain. In 1995, about $270 million was spent on sick days taken for pain from repetitive motion injuries.

Causes and symptoms

Compression of the median nerve in the wrist can occur during a number of different conditions, particularly those conditions which lead to changes in fluid accumulation throughout the body. Because the area of the wrist through which the median nerve passes is very narrow, any swelling in the area will lead to pressure on the median nerve. This pressure will ultimately interfere with the nerve's ability to function normally. Pregnancy, obesity, arthritis, certain thyroid conditions, diabetes, and certain pituitary abnormalities all predispose to carpal tunnel syndrome. Other conditions which increase the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome include some forms of arthritis and various injuries to the arm and wrist (including fractures, sprains, and dislocations ). Furthermore, activities which cause an individual to repeatedly bend the wrist inward toward the forearm can predispose to carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain jobs which require repeated strong wrist motions carry a relatively high risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Injuries of this type are referred to as "repetitive motion" injuries, and are more frequent among secretaries doing a lot of typing, people working at computer keyboards or cash registers, factory workers, and some musicians.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, burning, tingling, and a prickly pin-like sensation over the palm surface of the hand, and into the thumb, forefinger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. Some individuals notice a shooting pain which goes from the wrist up the arm, or down into the hand and fingers. With continued median nerve compression, an individual may begin to experience muscle weakness, making it difficult to open jars and hold objects with the affected hand. Eventually, the muscles of the hand served by the median nerve may begin to grow noticeably smaller (atrophy), especially the fleshy part of the thumb. Untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome may eventually result in permanent weakness, loss of sensation, or even paralysis of the thumb and fingers of the affected hand.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is made in part by checking to see whether the patient's symptoms can be brought on by holding his or her hand in position with wrist bent for about a minute. Wrist x rays are often taken to rule out the possibility of a tumor causing pressure on the median nerve. A physician examining a patient suspected of having carpal tunnel syndrome will perform a variety of simple tests to measure muscle strength and sensation in the affected hand and arm. Further testing might include electromyographic or nerve conduction velocity testing to determine the exact severity of nerve damage. These tests involve stimulating the median nerve with electricity and measuring the resulting speed and strength of the muscle response, as well as recording speed of nerve transmission across the carpal tunnel.

Treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome is initially treated with splints, which support the wrist and prevent it from flexing inward into the position which exacerbates median nerve compression. Some people get significant relief by wearing such splints to sleep at night, while others will need to wear the splints all day, especially if they are performing jobs which stress the wrist. Ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to decrease pain and swelling. When carpal tunnel syndrome is more advanced, injection of steroids into the wrist to decrease inflammation may be necessary.

The most severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome may require surgery to decrease the compression of the median nerve and restore its normal function. Such a repair involves cutting that ligament which crosses the wrist, thus allowing the median nerve more room and decreasing compression. This surgery is done almost exclusively on an outpatient basis and is often performed without the patient having to be made unconscious. Careful injection of numbing medicines (local anesthesia ) or nerve blocks (the injection of anesthetics directly into the nerve) create sufficient numbness to allow the surgery to be performed painlessly, without the risks associated with general anesthesia. Recovery from this type of surgery is usually quick and without complications.

Prognosis

Without treatment, continued pressure on the median nerve puts an individual at risk for permanent disability in the affected hand. Most people are able to control the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome with splinting and anti-inflammatory agents. For those who go on to require surgery, about 95% will have complete cessation of symptoms.

Prevention

Prevention is generally aimed at becoming aware of the repetitive motions which one must make which could put the wrist into a bent position. People who must work long hours at a computer keyboard, for example, may need to take advantage of recent advances in "ergonomics," which try to position the keyboard and computer components in a way that increases efficiency and decreases stress. Early use of a splint may also be helpful for people whose jobs increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Seiler, John Gray. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Update on Diagnostic Testing and Treatment Options." Consultant 37, no. 5 (May 1997): 1233.

KEY TERMS

Carpal tunnel A passageway in the wrist, created by the bones and ligaments of the wrist, through which the median nerve passes.

Electromyography A type of test in which a nerve's function is tested by stimulating a nerve with electricity, and then measuring the speed and strength of the corresponding muscle's response.

Median nerve A nerve which runs through the wrist and into the hand. It provides sensation and some movement to the hand, the thumb, the index finger, the middle finger, and half of the ring finger.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the squeezing or compressing of a nerve that passes through the wrist results in numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in one or both hands. The hands may become so weakened that opening jars or grasping objects becomes difficult and painful.

The carpal tunnel is a space formed by the carpal (wrist) bones and the carpal ligament (a connective tissue that attaches bone to bone). Through this space pass the median nerve and tendons of the fingers and thumb. (The median nerve runs from the neck through the middle of the arm to the fingers. Tendons are connective tissue that attach muscle to bone.) When the tendons within the carpal tunnel become inflamed, they swell and press on the median nerve.

Causes of median nerve compression

A number of conditions can cause swelling of the carpal tunnel, leading to pressure on the median nerve. Such conditions include pregnancy, arthritis (inflammation of the joints), hypothyroidism (reduced function of the thyroid, a gland located in the neck that plays an important role in metabolism, or the conversion of food to energy), diabetes (an inability to metabolizeor break downsugar properly), menopause (the point in a woman's life when menstruation ceases and childbearing is no longer possible), and pituitary abnormalities. (The pituitary or master gland secretes substances that directly or indirectly influence most basic bodily functions). Also, performing a job that requires repeated bending or twisting of the wrists increases the likelihood of developing the disorder. Continuous flexing of the wrist, as when typing on a keyboard or playing a piano, can cause compression of the median nerve. Carpal tunnel syndrome is much more common among women than men.

Treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated initially by applying a brace, or splint, to prevent the wrist from bending and to relieve pressure on the median nerve. If a person's job is causing the disorder, performing other work may be necessary. Treatment of a related medical condition may relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Severe cases may require surgery to decrease compression of the median nerve.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

DEFINITION


Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a disorder caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. Numbness and tingling are characteristic symptoms of the disorder.

DESCRIPTION


The carpal (pronounced CAR-pull) tunnel is an area in the wrist formed by bones and ligaments. It provides a protected passageway for the median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for feelings and movement in the hand, especially the thumb and first three fingers. When pressure is applied to the median nerve, the hand feels as if it has gone to sleep.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Words to Know

Carpal tunnel:
A passageway in the wrist, created by bones and ligaments, through which the median nerve passes.
Electromyography:
A test used to measure how well a nerve is functioning.
Median nerve:
A nerve that runs through the wrist and into the hand, providing feeling and movement to the hand, thumb, and fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most common among women between the ages of thirty and sixty. The disorder is a major cause of missed workdays because of the pain it causes. In 1995 about $270 million was spent for sick days taken as a result of CTS-related problems.

CAUSES


The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway. Any swelling in this area causes pressure on the median nerve. That pressure eventually makes it difficult for a person to use the hand normally. Some conditions that can lead to pressure on the median nerve include pregnancy, obesity (see obesity entry), arthritis (see arthritis entry), diabetes (see diabetes mellitus entry), certain diseases of the thyroid and pituitary glands, and injuries to the arm and wrist.

One of the most common causes of CTS is repetitive motion. Repetitive motion is any activity that a person performs over and over again. Typing, working at a computer keyboard or cash register, playing some kinds of musical instruments, and working at certain types of factory jobs may involve repetitive motion. Repetitive motion forces a person to use the wrist over and over again and can lead to swelling in the carpal tunnel area, subsequent pressure on the media nerve, and thus to CTS.

SYMPTOMS


Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, burning, tingling, and a prickly pin-like sensation in the palm of the hand, thumb, and fingers. Some individuals notice a shooting pain that starts in the wrist and goes up into the arm or down into the hand and fingers. CTS can also lead to muscle weakness in the hand. A person may have difficulty opening jars and holding objects. In advanced cases, hand and thumb muscles may actually decrease in size. If left untreated, CTS can result in permanent weakness in the hand and fingers, loss of feeling, and even paralysis of the thumb and fingers.

DIAGNOSIS


The first step in diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome is a simple one. The doctor asks the patient to hold his or her hand in position with the wrist bent for about a minute. The presence of the symptoms described suggests the presence of CTS. The doctor may also perform other simple tests to measure muscle strength and feeling in the hand and arm. Additional tests may be used to rule out other problems. For example, an X ray can show that a tumor is causing pressure on the median nerve.

The doctor may also order an electromyograph (pronounced e-LEK-tromy-uh-graf) of the affected area. An electromyograph measures the speed with which nerve transmissions move through the median nerve. It indicates the amount of damage that has been done to the nerve.

TREATMENT


The first step in treating carpal tunnel syndrome is to immobilize the wrist, that is, prevent it from moving. A splint around the wrist is used for this purpose. Some people get relief from CTS by wearing the splint at night. Others may also need to wear the splint during the day.

Certain drugs may be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (pronounced i-byoo-PRO-fuhn), are commonly used for this purpose. In advanced cases of CTS, injections of steroids may be necessary. Steroids also reduce pain and swelling.

In the most serious cases of CTS, surgery may be necessary. The doctor cuts a ligament in the wrist, increasing the size of the carpal tunnel. This procedure results in decreased pressure on the median nerve and, therefore, less pain for the patient. This procedure is almost always done in a doctor's office. A local anesthetic is used to numb the hand and wrist. The patient usually recovers quickly.

PROGNOSIS


Without proper diagnosis and treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome may lead to permanent damage to the affected hand. In most cases, splints and anti-inflammatory drugs are able to control the symptoms of CTS. For those who require surgery, about 95 percent will get complete relief from the disorder.

PREVENTION


The goal of CTS prevention is to reduce the amount of repetitive motion that places stress on the wrist. Ergonomics (pronounced ur-ga-NAHM-iks) can be a major help in reaching this goal. Ergonomics works with the design of machines and other equipment to make them less stressful for humans. For example, research in ergonomics has led to the development of new computer keyboard designs that are easier and less stressful to use. The early use of splints can also help prevent people at risk for CTS from developing the condition.

FOR MORE INFORMATION


Books

Butler, Sharon J. Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1996.

Crouch, Tammy. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Stress Injuries: The Comprehensive Guide to Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1996.

Pascarelli, Emil. Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User's Guide. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Periodicals

Brody, Jane E. "Experts on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Say that Conservative Treatment is the Best First Approach." New York Times (February 28, 1996): p. 89+.

Glazer, Sarah. "Repetitive Stress Injury: A Modern Malady." Washington Post (March 12, 1996): p. WH12.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Who Gets It?

What Happens When People Have CTS?

Resources

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition affecting the hand and wrist caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist.

KEYWORDS

for searching the Internet and other reference sources

Ergonomics

Musculoskeletal system

Orthopedics

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Who Gets It?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is compressed by other structures in the tunnel formed by ligaments* and the carpal (or wrist) bones. The median nerve provides feeling to the palm, thumb, and middle fingers, and irritation of this nerve causes numbness, weakness, and pain.

* ligaments
(UG-a-ments) are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones or cartilage, supporting and strengthening the joints.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States have CTS. Many are people who use their hands and wrists too much (repetitive motion) or in ways that are notergonomically* correct, but there are other causes too. CTS also affects some people who have synovitis*, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, or thyroid disease, and sometimes women who are pregnant or going through menopause*.

* ergonomics
(er-go-NOM-iks) is a science that helps people to know the best postures and movements to use while working, in order to avoid injury and discomfort.
* synovitis
(sin-o-VY-tis) is inflammation of the membrane surrounding a joint.
* menopause
(MEN-o-pawz) is the end of menstruation.

What Happens When People Have CTS?

Johns father loved coaching Little League, but after spending all week clicking away on his computer keyboard, his hands hurt too much to throw a baseball or grip a bat. John s father went to the doctor and complained of burning, tingling, and aching in his hands. He told the doctor that it hurt to cross his thumb over the palm of his hand and that the pain came and went but was worse at night.

Mild CTS

The doctor suspected CTS and did some tests on the median nerve in both wrists. The doctor diagnosed a mild case of CTS, and told Johns father to wear splints on his wrists, to take aspirin, and to take lots of breaks during the day when working on the computer.

High-Risk Jobs for CTS

  • Assembly line workers
  • Butchers
  • Carpenters
  • Computer users, especially word processors and data entry clerks
  • Draftsmen
  • Dental hygienists
  • Grocery store checkers
  • Musicians
  • Typists
  • Writers

Johns father did some research about ergonomics and repetitive stress syndromes, and decided to reposition his computer keyboard. He lowered the keyboard so that his hands arched down at the wrist, and he stopped resting his wrists at the edge of his desk.

Advanced CTS

Johns father had only a mild case of CTS. In cases with more serious symptoms, the doctor may have to inject a medication called cortisone* into the wrists. In severe cases of CTS, the doctor may recommend a surgical procedure, called carpal tunnel release, to relieve the pain. If left untreated, CTS can cause permanent nerve damage. With early treatment most people achieve pain relief and, like Johns father, can return to coaching baseball and other active pursuits.

* cortisone
(KOR-ti-zone) is a medication used to relieve inflammation.

See also

Repetitive Stress Syndrome

Strains and Sprains

Resources

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) posts a fact sheet about CTS at its website. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/patients/Disorder/CARPAL/carpal.htm

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 6300 North River Road, Rosemont, IL 60018-4262. The AAOS is a physician group that posts a fact sheet about CTS at its website. Telephone 800-346-AAOS http://www.aaos.org

Association for Repetitive Motion Syndromes (ARMS), P.O. Box 471973, Aurora, CO 80047-1973 Telephone 303-369-0803

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 250 Main Street, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 1H6. Telephone 800-263-8466 http://www.cohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/carpal.html

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carpal tunnel syndrome

carpal tunnel syndrome n. tingling, numbness, and pain in the hand affecting the thumb, index, and middle fingers; there may be weakness of grip due to wasting of the thenar eminence of the thumb. It is caused by pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the wrist, which may result from any continuous repetitive movements of the hand, such as keyboarding, or any condition causing local swelling.

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME

Ergonomic workstations are intended to relieve repetitive stress injuries that cause problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which causes pain, numbness, tingling, and loss of muscle control in the hands and wrists. Women are more likely to develop the problem than men, especially those who work as secretaries, keyboard users, or office assistants.

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carpal tunnel syndrome

car·pal tun·nel syn·drome • n. a painful condition of the hand and fingers caused by compression of a major nerve where it passes over the carpal bones through a passage at the front of the wrist. It may be caused by repetitive movements over a long period, or by fluid retention.

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"carpal tunnel syndrome." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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carpal tunnel syndrome

carpal tunnel syndrome Painful disorder of wrist and hand due to compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. Claimed to be relieved by high intakes of vitamin B6, some 50–100 times the reference intake, but there is little evidence. See also tenosynovitis.

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DAVID A. BENDER. "carpal tunnel syndrome." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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carpal tunnel syndrome

carpal tunnel syndrome: see repetitive stress injury.

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