Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition caused by increased pressure on the median nerve at the wrist. There is a space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel, where the median nerve and multiple tendons pass from the forearm into the hand.  Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when swelling in this tunnel pinches, or compresses, the nerve.

The University of Michigan hand surgery team specializes in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, from mild to severe. Our goal is to restore comfort and function as soon as possible with minimal impact on the patient’s quality of life.

Risk Factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are several factors that can contribute to the swelling of the carpal tunnel and the compression of the median nerve that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome:

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Common signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness with grip
  • Tendency to drop things
  • Poor sleep due waking up at night due to pain and tingling in the hand
  • In severe cases, thinning of the muscles in the palm

The numbness and tingling often happens in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. This may vary between individual patients. 

Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A thorough physical examination and discussion of the patient’s medical history, including current and past conditions, prior injuries and symptoms, will help diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome.

Depending on the examination of the patient’s hands, additional diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm the presence and extent of carpal tunnel syndrome. These include:

  • Electrodiagnostic nerve studies (EMG)
  • Laboratory tests
  • X-rays

Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms, which may be relieved without surgery. 

There are several non-surgical treatment options that may help relieve symptoms and reduce the chance of causing long-term damage to the nerve. These include:

  • Avoiding activities that cause numbness and pain
  • Rest for longer periods of time between activities that cause numbness and pain
  • Ice wrist area
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen
  • Wearing a wrist splint
  • Corticosteroid injections into the carpal tunnel

When symptoms are severe or do not improve, surgery may be the next step. Pressure on the median nerve is decreased with surgical release of the ligament over the carpal tunnel. 

Hand Therapy and Rehabilitation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome is recommended in some cases. It is provided on site at the University of Michigan’s Hand Program by our team of occupational and physical therapists under the direction of a trained hand therapist. Referrals to local providers can be arranged closer to home as a more convenient option for patients.

The ultimate goal of therapy and rehabilitation is the restoration and optimization of hand function, renewed independence and improved overall quality of life. We offer treatment plans that are tailored to fit each patient’s condition, living and work requirements:

  • Non-surgical option. For patients who do not require surgery but would benefit from therapy.
  • Post-operative rehabilitation. To help patients as they recover from surgical procedures.

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

If you are considering treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, the University of Michigan hand surgeons will guide you, from consultation to recovery, to the best treatment options for your individual needs. Our hand surgeons have dual appointments in Orthopaedic and Plastic Surgery with a specialization in Hand. Patients may be seen in the Orthopaedic Clinic or the Plastic Surgery clinic for treatment of hand conditions.

  • Orthopaedic Call Center, 734-998-6541
  • Plastic Surgery Hand Call Center, 734-998-6022

The University of Michigan Hand Program

Our team of specialists at the University of Michigan Hand Program is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for a variety of hand problems. From arthritis injuries, to congenital hand conditions, to the most complex reconstruction, our hand specialists approach each case individually, with a specific plan designed to maximize the restoration of both form and function. Depending on the types of hand conditions our patients face, our physicians will help determine the best therapies or procedures to maximize hand functionality and normal hand appearances. Visit the University of Michigan Hand Program page to learn more about the program and to contact our hand specialists.