What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which too much pressure is placed onshutterstock_86604217 the median nerve.  The median nerve is a nerve that supplies sensation to your thumb, index, long, and ring fingers.  It also activates the muscles at the base of the thumb.  There nerve gets compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel, which is the space in your wrist surrounded by your wrist bones and a crossing ligament(white structure in picture to the right).  Pressure on the nerve occurs secondary to fluid retention, swelling of tissue around the nerve, and inflammation.  In many cases the cause is unknown.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

Often people complain of numbness and tingling in the first 3-4 fingers, with the index and middle finger most often affected.  However, sometimes only one of these fingers is affected. Often the numbness and tingling occur at times of rest and can awaken one from sleep.  Sometimes certain activities such as talking on the phone, driving, or washing your hair can bring on the symptoms.

How is carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

In our practice it is most often diagnosed by history and physical exam.  On occasion, a nerve conduction test will be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.  However, as this test is painful and has a high rate of error, we try to avoid this testing.

What is the treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome?

In most cases, the initial treatment is nonoperative.  A trial of splinting and steroid injections is attempted at first.  Most patients with carpal tunnel syndrome will respond to a steroid injection.  The length of response to this treatment varies. In some patients it is curative and in others it is very short acting. Recent data from the Mayo Clinic suggests a 30% cure rate with steroid injection alone.  If the response to injection is suboptimal or short lived then the patient may need further evaluation.  Eventually, many patients require surgery.  In this case Dr. Graham can perform either endoscopic carpal tunnel release or open carpal tunnel release.

Endoscopic Versus Open Carpal Tunnel Release

Type of SurgerySurgery LocationPain from SurgeryRecovery TimeSurgical SafetyOverall Complication RateResults at 3 monthsCost
Open Carpal Tunnel ReleaseOffice More4-12 weeksSameHigherSame$450-850
Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel ReleaseHospitalLess 1-4 weeksSameLowerSame$2500-5000

Why choose Dr. David Graham to treat your carpal tunnel syndrome?

All techniques of carpal tunnel release involve the division of the transverse carpal ligament to increase the space in the carpal tunnel. This increased space relieves pressure on the nerve. This can be done through either an open or endoscopic approach. As he is a Hand Fellowship Trained expert in Carpal Tunnel Surgery, Dr. Graham is facile with both techniques.  He is able to offer the most advanced endoscopic carpal tunnel release, which is shown below:


What are the main risks of carpal tunnel surgery?

• Swelling, stiffness, and pain
• Infection
• Nerve Damage
• Wrist or thumb base pain “pillar pain”
• Residual numbness in fingers
• Recurrence

What is the carpal tunnel recovery time? What is the time off of work? When can I drive?

When endoscopic carpal tunnel release is performed recovery time is minimal.  We do not splint and allow the patient to use the hand as much as they want. The majority of patients can return to work in the first 1-3 days. However, patients who perform heavy labor may require 4-5 weeks to recover. Open carpal tunnel release may require 2-3 weeks recovery time, with those who perform heavy labor requiring 2-3 months to recover. Driving can resume the next day if the patient is comfortable and not taking narcotics.

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