I have had Carpal Tunnel surgery on both of my hands. Up until that moment, I wasn’t even sure I knew what Carpal Tunnel was. I suppose in my head it was something that Typist’s got. I envisioned rows and rows of women in cardigans typing away, but I think I was confusing this with Repetitive Strain Injury. All I can tell you about my experience is, it was very painful, I barely had any movement in my wrists, and the pain could be excruciating, especially at night. So I decided to do some research into what Carpal Tunnel is and what causes it.
What is it Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
It can also be known as “median nerve compression”. It is when there is pressure on your median nerve. This nerve goes through a passage in your wrist called the carpal tunnel that is surrounded by ligaments and bones. When this happens it causes pain, tingling and weakness in your hand. The numbness and tingling may be more in your thumb and index fingers, but not in your little finger. The tendons that you use to flex your thumb and fingers go through the carpal tunnel.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
Aches and pains in the wrist, hand, arm and fingers.
Tingling, pins & needles sensation in your hand.
Numbness in the hand and fingers
Weakness in your hands and wrist, difficulty gripping anything.
Symptoms worse at night
Less flexibility on the wrist.
These are the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But did you also know that women are three times more likely than men to get it, possibly because their carpal tunnel is smaller. It is also more common between the ages of forty to sixty. You may find shaking your hands eases the symptoms for short time.
So what are the causes?
Causes of Carpal Tunnel
Injury to your wrist.
If family members have had it.
Repetitive movements, job-related if you do the same thing over and over.
Inflammatory conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect the lining around the tendons in your wrist.
Hormones, yes even hormones can cause Carpal tunnel with women developing it when they are pregnant or going through the menopause.
Tests to confirm if you have Carpal Tunnel can include an X-Ray, MRI and a Nerve Conduction test. You may be given exercises to do, lifestyle changes. Wrist splints may be recommended, especially at night to keep your hands in the same position. Your doctor may even try cortisone injections into your wrists. I had these injections and whilst they worked temporarily, all the symptoms did come back in both wrists. I also had an MRI and an X-ray, along with the nerve test too. They all confirmed I had Carpal Tunnel and I ended up having surgery. The surgery is called Carpal Tunnel Release and its a procedure to make the carpal tunnel bigger to release the pressure.
Carpal Tunnel Release surgery
The surgery itself only takes about 20 minutes. You lie down with your arm out to the side and a tourniquet is put around the top of your arm to stop the blood flow. You will have a local anaesthetic so you won’t feel anything. The surgeon makes an incision at the bottom of your palm, they will the divide the carpal ligament which relieves the pressure on your median nerve. The surgeon will then close the wound with stitches. Your hand will be bandaged for a few days and movement will be restricted. You may feel tingling in your hand when the anaesthetic is wearing off. Be careful not to bump your hand or pick anything heavy up with it. You will be given exercises to do with your fingers to aid with movement, and you also can’t get it wet, so care must be taken in the shower.
Your stitches will be removed 10 – 14 days after the surgery, and after around 3 weeks you will be able to get it wet, which will make bathing so much easier. Your scar will still feel tender and you can use a cream to massage into your scar. Depending on your job you should be able to return to work after 3 weeks or so. But no heavy lifting or putting any too much strain on your hands.
You may not be able to drive for a couple of weeks, you should maybe check with your car insurance. If you are involved in an accident your insurance may not be valid. So make you sure you can sit comfortably in your car and are able to grip the steering wheel well, and can perform an emergency stop. If you feel comfortable driving maybe try a short journey to the shops first.
There will of course be some side effects after surgery like pain and swelling, but this can be managed with painkillers. There will also be a scar but this will fade over time, and there are creams and oils that can help with this too. You may have a weaker grip after the surgery, and your scar will feel tender, but this is only temporary and it should return to normal over time, along with any stiffness that you feel. Worst case scenario is there could be nerve damage. If you have any concerns please see you, doctor.
Do you have problems with Carpal Tunnel syndrome?
Please also bear in mind that if left untreated it can last a long time and even get worse. Getting an early diagnosis makes it easier to treat. If you leave it untreated it can cause permanent muscle damage and you could lose some hand function.
If you have any of the above symptoms please seek medical advice. You will be referred on for further tests and treatments, but it is worth it. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be a very painful disorder so the sooner you seek out the treatment the better. I don’t regret having the Carpal tunnel release surgery as I had pretty poor movement, especially in my left hand, which is a little strange as I am right-handed. But I have no pain and full flexibility back in my wrists. The difference for me was huge. But see what other treatments you can try first if you really don’t want the surgery. It is always best to seek advice.