What To Expect After Carpal Tunnel Surgery: Relief And Recovery

Carpal tunnel is a condition associated with over activity of the wrist. Here is a look at the symptoms, treatment, and recovery.

Otherwise known as "secretary's disease", carpal tunnel is a painful condition affecting the wrist, hand, and arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve running from the forearm into the hand called the median nerve becomes squeezed at the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the foundation of the hand. The median nerve and tendons run through this tunnel into the hand. When tendons get irritated they thicken and cause swelling in the narrow tunnel. This swelling causes the median nerve to be compressed, and results in pain, weakness, and sometimes numbness in the hand and wrist. Sometimes the condition is so bad that pain and numbness can radiate up the arm. Usually when there is pain in the wrist and arm the culprit is carpal tunnel syndrome, although there are other conditions that these sensations can be linked to.

The symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome typically arrive gradually. Starting as a light tingling or burning, the sensations in the hand and arm may turn into itchiness. Numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers, especially the thumb and index finger, is a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome reaching its full effect. Usually the symptoms appear in the hands during the night since many people sleep with clenched fists. Tingling and numbness may continue into the day for some sufferers. A decrease in grip strength may accompany tingling and numbness, making everyday activities frustrating and difficult to accomplish. The numbness can get so pervasive for some that telling the difference between hot and cold is impossible.

Why does carpal tunnel happen? Carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of an increase in pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel. Thus, it is the factors that influence the amount of pressure on the nerve, not the nerve itself that is the problem. The disorder is typically the result of trauma or injury to the wrist that causes swelling like a fracture or sprain. Rheumatoid arthritis, the over activity of the pituitary gland, hypothyroidism, and functional problems in the wrist joint are all possible causes. Most often the syndrome is due to a combination of factors""work stress and over activity of the wrist muscles. The repeated use of vibrating hand tools can cause carpal tunnel as can repetitive motions at work, such as excessive typing. Aches and pains associated with repeated movements in leisure activities may fall under the category of carpal tunnel; however, tendonitis and bursitis are two conditions that also are related to inflammation as a result of over activity. When in doubt, seek a doctor's opinion.

Women are ten times as likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome because the tunnel is smaller in women than in men. In addition, the dominant hand usually is affected first and receives the most amount of pain. People most at risk for carpal tunnel are those who perform assembly work""sewing, finishing, and cleaning, etc. Carpal tunnel syndrome is actually three times more common among assemblers than among data-entry workers.

How is carpal tunnel treated? After a doctor finds you positive for carpal tunnel syndrome you have several options for treatment. Non-surgical treatments include the ingestion of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and other nonprescription pain relievers. These may decrease the pain associated with carpal tunnel on a temporary basis. Diuretics taken orally can decrease swelling and corticosteroids such as lidocaine can relieve pressure on the median as well. These are temporary solutions that many sufferers rely on. Exercise""stretching and strengthening the wrist muscles""has been found to relieve some of the pain associated with the disorder. Seeking a physical therapist for exercises may be beneficial to you if you are experiencing pain in the wrist and hand. Acupuncture and chiropractic care are two alternative therapies some patients recommend. While their effectiveness remains relatively unproven, it may be worth some research and a visit. Yoga, on the other hand, is an alternative method of pain relief that has documented ability to reduce pain and increase grip strength in carpal tunnel patients.

If the non-surgical remedies are not sufficient for the relief of your condition you have the option of going under the knife. Carpal tunnel surgery, also known as carpal tunnel release, is one of the most common surgeries in the United States. If symptoms last more than 6 months and you have tried other methods of relief it is recommended that you consider surgery, as it may be the only option left. Surgery of the carpal tunnel involves cutting the band of tissues around the wrist to reduce the pressure on the median nerve. It is done under local anesthesia. While the surgery does not require a stay at the hospital overnight, recovery is difficult, painful, and long. Full recovery can take months in some cases. Some patients may experience a loss of strength in the wrist due to the severing of tendons, while others may have infection, nerve damage, and pain at the scar. During recovery it is recommended that you postpone strenuous activity on the wrist and hand. Having a helper perform daily tasks such as taking the garbage out, walking the dog, and doing cleaning around the house is important for the first stage of recovery. At work you may want to take time off or alter your duties so that you do not have to use your hands. Slowly working exercise into your routine is a good idea for strengthening the wrist muscle. Relying on some of the non-surgical treatments listed above during recovery may be fruitful as well. Taking aspirin and other nonprescription drugs can alleviate some of the remaining discomfort in your hand and wrist. Seeking the advice and guidance of a physical therapist is a good idea so that your surgery will produce lasting results. Remember not to rush back into activity, however, be aware that you must slowly re-condition your wrist to the level of strength it possessed pre-surgery.

While recovery can take a while the recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome is rare. Most patients recover completely, even if it takes weeks or months. To prevent being in the position of deciding between non-surgical and surgical solutions to carpal tunnel it is best to prevent the condition before it happens. Stretching exercises, taking frequent breaks from work, and using correct posture and wrist position is vital. Wearing fingerless gloves is important too, as it keeps the hands warm and flexible. Tool handles can be designed to enable the worker's wrist to maintain a natural position during work. It is also a good idea to rotate job duties to prevent repetitive movements from resulting in tendon inflammation.

While the recovery process can be gradual and frustratingly slow being aware of not over working yourself will prevent you a worsened condition that will only be a pain in the wrist further down the road.

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