If you’ve noticed tingling or numbness in your thumb, first and second fingers, and the inner half of your ring finger, you might have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It’s annoying but tolerable, you might think. Not worth taking time off work to go see your doctor. After all, aging means your body won’t necessarily work like it used to, and some pain is normal, right? Wrong! Seeking treatment as soon as possible for CTS is important. Here’s why:
Your CTS could be the result of a more serious, underlying health concern.
While no single cause for CTS can be pinpointed, research has shown that CTS arises from other conditions which might create inflammation and swelling in the wrist area. This reduction of space in the carpal tunnel creates pressure on the median nerve, resulting in the tingling, numbness, and sometimes pain CTS patients experience. It’s true that wrist injuries like a fracture or sprain or a cyst in the carpal tunnel can be at fault; however, it is just as likely that pituitary or thyroid gland imbalances, rheumatoid arthritis, or even diabetes-generated conditions where swelling has occurred have put pressure on the median nerve. These concerns need to be addressed to prevent serious, long-term health issues, and your doctor will be able to figure out if any other condition is contributing to your CTS.
A simple, noninvasive treatment might be all you need to resolve your symptoms.
Your physician will probably begin with noninvasive treatments like a wrist splint at night and maybe icing the wrist to reduce swelling. You might be asked to evaluate what kinds of activities you perform each day, noting when you are doing repetitive hand tasks that could strain your wrist or create pressure on the median nerve. You could explore massage therapy or acupuncture, though research has not yet definitively shown consistent benefits in the treatment of CTS. If noninvasive measures don’t work, then you might move on to treatment with steroid injections or carpal tunnel release surgery which is handled on an outpatient basis most of the time. Notice that there are a number of solutions (most of them noninvasive) which might help.
Left alone, your CTS is probably not going to get better and it will most likely get worse.
CTS is a progressive neuropathy which means that the muscles around the median nerve rely on it functioning properly to stay healthy. If the median nerve function is compromised by CTS, the muscles will atrophy or waste away. This will affect the motion and strength of your thumb, and consequently, your ability to grip, button your shirt, or move your fingers in a coordinated way.
Ignoring your CTS will not make it go away, and it could impair your quality of life. Talking to your doctor about your symptoms is the first step, and understanding the CTS condition will inform your questions and give you confidence in your treatment decisions. Doctorpedia is here to help with short videos from expert physicians and articles to guide your journey toward better health. Knowing what could happen if you don’t address your CTS can motivate you to call your physician today!
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.