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The carpal tunnel is a small space between the bones of your wrist, and through which the median nerve runs. In carpal tunnel syndrome, the tissues that surround the bones and the median nerve swell and compress the nerve. The result can be numbness in the thumb and first three fingers, accompanied by pain. The condition may be caused by performing repetitive motions at work, working in ergonomically unsound workplaces, and by underlying conditions like arthritis. Some people, often those with smaller wrists, seem more prone to the condition than others.
If you note symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you should see a physician right away to treat this condition. Especially if the syndrome is caused by repetitive motion injury, you can head off more severe cases by changing what you do at work or changing how you do your work. People who treat carpal tunnel syndrome in its early stages have a better chance of avoiding aggravating the condition, which may result in surgery.
The way that doctors treat carpal tunnel syndrome is based on cause, when it can be identified, and severity of the condition. Usually, the first treatment is to immobilize the wrist or wrists, with splints, or hand braces. This can allow you to continue performing work without using the hands in a way that will aggravate the condition. Icing the area may also reduce swelling of the tissue and is easily accomplished if you have a removable wrist brace.
Second, doctors, and especially physical and occupational therapists, look to treat the condition by analyzing any type of motions a person is performing that may be resulting in the condition. For instance, if you type all day, use poor positioning, and work in a poorly designed workspace, this can be changed to help you type in a more ergonomically sound position. Small changes in the way you perform your normal work can help keep the tissues in the wrists from getting more swollen and aggravating the condition. Learning exercises to strengthen the wrists may help end the syndrome, and these are normally taught by a physical therapist.
Both in early and later stages of this condition, doctors also treat carpal tunnel syndrome by treating symptoms of pain. Most often, doctors will prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, or recommend over the counter medications such as ibuprofen. Physicians can additionally use cortisone shots in the wrist to temporarily treat carpal tunnel syndrome if pain is severe.
When the condition is not alleviated by the above treatments, the most common remedy is surgery. The surgery involves cutting a ligament in the carpal tunnel that is usually most indicated in causing the syndrome. The surgery can help people recover within a few weeks, or it may take several months. It should always be followed by physical therapy sessions as the wrists heal, so that the surgery does not impact full use of the wrists and hands afterwards.