Beware The Burning Wrists
The pain comes on without warning. A burning or tingling sensation in the wrists and hands. Soon, the pain reduces grip strength. Even typing or writing seems impossible. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects millions each year, costing thousands in lost hours and medical bills. The condition affects the median nerve of the wrist. The tendons squeeze the nerve, reducing the function of the hand. People with high impact jobs are more likely to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Is this condition fixable?
Advancements in technology and therapy mean recovery is within reach. Physical therapy and surgery are the two main courses of action. The treatments have short- and long-term benefits. Choosing the right course of treatment can be tricky.
Starting physical therapy
Physical therapy is the treatment of an ailment using noninvasive means. Therapists use massages, stretches, and exercises as the main tools. Physical therapy helps to regain strength and reduces carpal tunnel pain. If doctors detect carpal tunnel syndrome early, the first treatment involves physical therapy. Techniques used include nerve and tendon gliding, massage, splinting, and hot/cold therapy.
Benefits of physical therapy
The obvious advantage of physical therapy is avoiding surgery altogether. Although surgery poses low risks, physical therapy has little to no complications. Physical therapy can also start almost immediately for most patients, bringing temporary relief. A study done on two sets of carpal tunnel patients revealed an equal degree of relief when doing physical therapy versus surgery over a 12-month recovery period. However, therapy alone can be ineffective with late detection of carpal tunnel.
Going under the knife
Carpal tunnel surgeries have improved in speed and efficacy over the decades. Previously, surgeons performed carpal tunnel release surgery in an open format. This procedure involves cutting open the wrists for direct access to the tendons. Now, surgeons can perform release surgery using minimally invasive surgery techniques with an endoscope. With endoscopic surgery, surgeons need to make only one or two cuts to operate on the wrist.
Benefits of carpal tunnel release surgery
Carpal tunnel release surgery’s most significant benefit is the immediate impact on pain. Surgeons directly identify the problem tendons rather than waiting for the body to heal with physical therapy. Some patients need little to no physical therapy after surgery. After surgery, expect a shorter recovery timeframe. Surgery also brings the possibility of removing the pain altogether versus months of therapy. Finally, the more debilitating forms of carpal tunnel syndrome like acute carpal tunnel benefit greatly from surgery.
The next best step
A doctor or surgeon can recommend the right action for carpal tunnel syndrome. Based on the degree of pain and previous responses to medication, patients and physicians can decide on a course of treatment together. Physical therapy may allow a person to continue working while still treating the condition. Surgery may require a prolonged absence from work and activities, adding to the short-term costs. However, surgery closes the timeline of recovering from carpal tunnel syndrome altogether. Both procedures have advantages and benefits of finally giving patients back wrist strength.
Start the conversation today
If carpal tunnel brings constant discomfort and pain, talk to a doctor immediately. Doctors can run the tests needed to determine the best course of treatment. With physical therapy, patients benefit from a noninvasive approach to recovery. Surgery brings almost immediate relief with some possible risks. Patients can consult with a physician to determine whether physical therapy or surgery is the best option.