Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a condition located in one or both wrists that causes pain, tingling and numbness, is more commonly found in women than in men. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, women are three times more likely than men to develop CTS.
There are several risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing CTS. These include:
• Genetic predisposition. A woman’s carpal tunnel is usually smaller than those found in men.
• Pregnancy. Hormones coinciding with pregnancy and fluid retention can put extra stress on the joints. Many women start displaying symptoms of CTS in the last weeks of pregnancy.
• Breast cancer. It is common for women who have breast cancer and have had a mastectomy to also have drainage issues with their lymphatic systems. When lymph nodes are overwhelmed, they have difficulty draining excess fluids. The body can retain fluids, putting extra stress on the joints. It is rare for breast cancer survivors to develop CTS, but it is possible.
• Menopause. As in pregnancy, hormone changes can increase a woman’s chances of developing CTS. Some women experience fluid retention which causes excess pressure on the joint.
If you suffer from tingling and numbness in your hands and fingers or pain that shoots from your wrist up your arm, you may have CTS. "Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome is relatively easy to diagnose and to treat," says Dr. Alfredo Rodriguez, M.D., a board certified plastic surgeon and hand surgeon on the medical staff at Texas Regional Medical Center.
In simple terms, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve at the wrist (called the median nerve) becomes pinched. A space in the wrist (the carpal tunnel) contains both the median nerve and the bundle of nine tendons that run from the forearm to the hand.
While there may be different risk factors involved in developing CTS, patients share the common issue of having excessive pressure on the median nerve and the nine tendons. Usually, symptoms begin gradually, but they tend to increase over time. At first, you may feel pressure in your wrists only at night, but it often occurs during the day as well. Symptoms frequently include: pain and numbness or tingling most often in the thumb side of the hand. Some people have trouble making a pinching motion or trouble with delicate movements like buttoning buttons. In severe cases, the palm may waste and shrink.
To find out if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you and will conduct an examination to look for signs of tingling, numbness or weakness. Your doctor may order X-rays to look for other causes of your discomfort such as arthritis or a broken bone. Electrical testing of the nerve function is often helpful in making the correct diagnosis.
If it’s caught early, carpal tunnel syndrome usually can be treated without surgery. Non-surgical treatments may include: wearing a wrist splint at night, taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, changing hand use patterns, or receiving a steroid injection to reduce swelling around the median nerve.
Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery if you don’t improve. The goal of the surgery is to create more room for the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel. The surgery, which is usually performed on an outpatient basis, involves an incision in the wrist and can be completed endoscopically (minimally invasive method). After surgery, recovery may take several weeks, but patients usually experience dramatic relief from the symptoms. In severe cases, symptoms may not go away entirely.
"Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very common problem that can affect your quality of life. There are several non-operative and minimally invasive ways to relieve your symptoms. Nobody should have to suffer," said Dr. Rodriguez. For a physician recommendation, call Texas Regional Medical Center at 877-554-8762 (TRMC).
For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome, including drawings of the hand and the carpal tunnel, visit the website of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand at www.assh.org.
This health and wellness tip sponsored by Texas Regional Medical Center at Sunnyvale. For a physician referral, call 877-584-TRMC to speak with our physician referral specialist. Texas Regional Medical Center is invested in by physicians.