3 signs it’s time to see a doctor for carpal tunnel syndrome

3 signs it’s time to see a doctor for carpal tunnel syndrome

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Numbness, tingling and pain in the hand, an electric shock-like feeling that affects the thumb, index and long finger, and pain that travels up the arm toward the shoulder are all symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the wrist and hand, usually on the thumb side. It occurs when too much pressure is put on the median nerve which runs through the wrist (carpal tunnel) to the hand and gives the finger muscles movement and feeling.

Signs and symptoms:

There is no single cause, but overuse of the hand and wrist, pregnancy, older age and some medical conditions including diabetes, thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis, can play a role, doctors say.

“Symptoms often begin gradually and without a specific injury to the wrist or hand,” says Dr. Anton Fakhouri, a fellowship-trained hand, wrist and elbow orthopedic surgeon with the Bone & Joint Institute at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “If you sleep with your wrist curled, the pain may wake you up at night. You may find yourself shaking your hand to relieve your symptoms. During the day, you may have trouble holding your phone or buttoning your shirt.”

With time, Dr. Fakouri says, hand weakness can develop and you might find yourself dropping objects.

Treatment options:

Dr. Fakhouri says the symptoms will initially come and go, but when they become persistent, a person should seek medical advice.

“You want to diagnose and treat this early with medical management to avoid surgery, if possible,” he says.

Sometimes surgery, called carpal tunnel release, is the best option and can help prevent permanent damage.

Dr. Fakhouri recommends seeing a surgeon if:

  • Your symptoms have not improved over several weeks to months of non-surgical treatment.
  • You have lost your hand, thumb or finger function, which indicates your median nerve is compromised and you are at risk for median nerve damage.
  • The symptoms are so severe they restrict your normal activities.

Most of the time carpal tunnel surgery can be done on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.

“The surgeon will make a small incision on the palm side of your hand to cut the traverse carpal ligament,” says Dr. Fakhouri. “This will release the pressure on the median nerve to relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Recovery is gradual and depends on the severity of the case. Complete recovery may take a few weeks, a few months, or in some instances, up to a year. Patients may need to work with a hand therapist to aid in recovery.

“The good news is that the majority of patients can use their hand for light activities on the same day after surgery,” says Dr. Fakhouri.  “In most cases, patients will not need additional surgery in the future.”

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  1. I’ve been managing carpal tunnel syndrome for a couple decades through behavior modification. Early diagnosis and intervention allows for less severe means of managing and avoiding CTS. Being a software developer, I’m prone due to excessive typing. Using ergonomic keyboard paying attention to wrist alignment, regular breaks helps. Paying attention to arm/hand position when sleeping as well. Initial treatment may be wrist splits. Intermediate may include steroid injections. Every now and then I think about surgery though fortunately I’ve been able to avoid that step.

  2. I work in an office and spend the entire day typing. I have noticed a lot of pain in my wrists. Thank you for saying that if your thumbs aren’t working as well as they did in the past, it could indicate that you have median nerve damage. I think I might go to the doctor and have it checked out as soon as possible.

  3. My mother-in-law has exhibited some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel. The article mentioned that seeking medical advice early on can help you avoid surgery in the future. If her symptoms persist, how soon exactly would you recommend visiting a hand doctor for diagnosis and treatment?

  4. Peggy Armstrong May 8, 2017 at 5:28 pm · Reply

    I had cts surgery in 2009. I have had no problems untill recent. Thumb on palm side, first teo fingers…ectreme pain, sharp pain, tingling, and no sense of touch. Whats going on? Dont tell me i have to have it done again. Its unbearable at times. Whst type of doc do i see? Is there ANYTHING i can fo to relieve pain at home?

  5. Carpal tunnel? A couple of weeks ago, I used my fingers and forearms to help raise myself from seating. Then, and now if I stupidly do it again, there is a sharp pain from the hand into the forearm. I try to life with my legs, but problems with one leg and foot make rising difficult. Had a severe cramp in forearm the other night. Forearm still has pain when using it in obviously incorrect positions.

  6. That’s really good that most patients can use their hand the same day of their surgery. I’m pregnant and my wrists have been hurting me quite a bit, so I think that I may have developed carpal tunnel. I should find an orthopaedic doctor to see for sure and hear what he or she has to say about fixing it.

  7. I am a home care nurse that uses her hands a lot for wound care etc. I went a vacation 9 months ago to Ireland for a week. I packed by luggage tightly so to go on airline as carry on. One week after I came home, I had terrible pain in my hands (mainly in thumbs) that radiated to elbow. I had acupuncturist 2 times weekly for about 10 weeks that helped but did not alleviate the pain completely. I have purchased a TENS unit and use it at times when the pain is intense. I am very reluctant of having surgery due to my nursing responsibilities.

  8. Does anyone know when your carpal tunnel is gone to far to receive any type of cortisone shots etc? This is my second carpal tunnel issue and it can back with a vengeous. I never knew you could occur again after surgery. I had my left done 26 years ago and my right hand 24 years ago (It’s in the left again), I also Tarsal tunnel in both my feet or ankles. The pain is so bad right now and the tingling sensation all of that is shooting up to my shoulder. I used to be able to shake it of in bed, now I have to get up and walk around then there is still not much release, I am losing feeling in my middle finger and thumb. And I can not use it at ALL for at least 3 hours after waking up. I don’t know what to do I dread having surgery!

  9. Hayley mcgowan June 6, 2018 at 11:44 am · Reply

    Am getting serverva pain n my hands thumbs n fingers are keep going numb n it’s like a hot poker stabbing me n my wrist a keep dropping thing n they also get cramp in my hands n now it’s shooting up my shoulders n omg the pain is so bad n am her to g the same feeling in my legs as a av got arthictis in my ankle but a keep falling down a don’t no wots goin on n also my hands are always do cold even wen it’s red hot n my man has been diagnosed thus cbts couple years ago n had the operation n still to the day she’s still dropping thing n that’s like me a caring even pick up a 2ltr pint if milk without dropping it cos is of my thumb n my middle finger keep locking but the pain in my wrist is so unreal and a cannot get to see my doctors as every time a try to make appointment ther always full please say u can try n help me wot us happening with me as am n a lot of pain n even now txting u am feeling my wrist is hurting so much n so is my fingers thumb a think of thought a had broke ma thumb but haven’t can h please please help me n tell me wot u tho k it is or cud b thank h so so much

  10. What kind of specialist would I see about the carpel tunnel?

  11. i had carpal tunnel surgery last year left hand still in pain !! numbing, tingling, and burning I had four cortisone shots. Now, my upper arm is trembling and i am not even doing anything !! what’s going on??

  12. I’m going through what I think is carpal tunnel. The numbness. The shooting pain. Damn me if I need surgery. I think I’ve had carpal tunnel going on 9 yrs w/o thinking that its carpal tunnel and thought it as arthritis. It sucks. Now it maybe too late.

  13. What kind of specialist to see about carpal tunnel?

  14. So yeah, the pain is like no other. It’s terrible. There is no managing it once you’ve gotten to a certain point. The pain at night is unbelievable and you will be guaranteed no sleep. I’m getting ready for surgery hopefully this month because I cannot stand this pain. And I’m very pain tolerate. The feeling like all your connective tissue are going to snap is aweful. It’s beyond tingling, its more searing pain. That’s when you know you have carpal tunnel. I’ve been dealing with mild carpal tunnel since 2009 but, this past year has been intolerable. I often think, why is it taking SO long to get an appointment for surgery when they know how long I’ve been suffering. I wonder if Dr.s family member ever had to wait months for an appt?

About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”