What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
It's a lack of blood supply to the median nerve, one of three major nerves in the hand.
When the nerve doesn't get enough oxygen, the hand gets a "pins and needles" feeling, numbness and pain.
When should you see a doctor?
People come in when pain keeps them from getting a good night's sleep or because their hands feel weak.
Many call for an appointment because they're dropping things. That happens because they've developed numbness in their hands, so they can't feel how tightly they are gripping an object.
It's important not to wait, because patients who have had carpal tunnel syndrome for a short period of time have better results from treatment.
What treatments are available?
Initially most patients are treated with a wrist-neutral splint that keeps the wrist from bending at night, relieving pain and numbness.
Occasionally, a splint plus an injection of cortisone is required. Cortisone decreases inflammation in the carpal tunnel, making it easier for the blood supply to reach the nerve.
Some patients may need surgery. The patient is given a local anesthetic and can go home the same day. Surgery gives immediate relief of night pain and allows damaged nerves to heal.
How long is the recovery period after surgery?
It depends on the type of surgery-a newer surgical procedure requires a very small incision, so there is less pain and a shorter recovery.
Some patients can play golf a week after this procedure.
Can people return to the job that caused carpal tunnel syndrome?
Although their symptoms are improved, even with surgery some people may have to modify the type of work they're doing.