Do I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

February 10, 2020 | Rice, J. Ryan, MD, FACS

Carpal tunnel syndrome, CTS, is a very common disease affecting about one in 10 people during their lifetimes.  There are a number of contributing factors that may increase your chances of developing CTS, but often times the cause is unknown.  It can affect people of all ages but is most common in people in their 40s-60s.   I, personally, perform hundreds of surgeries a year for this disease.

What are the symptoms of CTS?

The most common symptom of CTS is numbness in the hands.  It may affect one side or both.  It typically causes numbness in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger.  It can be brought on by working with your hands or holding your hands in a particular position such as driving a car or holding a phone.  

Often times the symptoms become worse at night because of the way we hold our hands when we are sleeping.  Symptoms may also include a burning pain in the hands, and as it progresses can even cause weakness in the hand, specifically moving the thumb.  It is possible to have symptoms of pain radiating up the forearm as well and other less common presenting symptoms.  

What is the cause of CTS?

We have a nerve, called the median nerve, that starts out in the neck and travels down our arms. It enters a tunnel in our wrist before it branches off and sends nerves to our finger tips.  As it travels through the wrist, it passes under a ligament which forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This is where this nerve often gets pinched, causing the nerve to malfunction or not send the signals back to our brain as effectively, causing the symptoms we experience.  

Is CTS dangerous and is important to have it treated in timely manner?

Although CTS is not life threatening, it is important to have it treated in a relatively timely manner.  If the symptoms persist longer than 12-18 months, it can cause irreversible damage.  This can be quite debilitating and make every day activities more difficult such as picking up and feeling small objects, opening jars, etc.  Even if your symptoms have been ongoing for some time, it is still important to have it treated to prevent it from getting worse.  

What is the treatment for CTS?

If it is very mild then splints, therapy, changing how we are using our hands and sometimes injections can be helpful.  If these conservative measures do not resolve the symptoms, then a quick, simple, outpatient surgery will often be recommended.   

How long is recovery from carpal tunnel surgery?

There has been a lot of advancement in carpal tunnel surgery in recent years.  I typically will perform an endoscopic surgery which typically allows for a very quick recovery with minimal pain.  A patient can expect to get back to most everyday activities within a week or two.  Very strenuous activity should be avoided for about a month, but patients typically heal very quickly and require minimal to no pain medication.  

I think I might have carpal tunnel syndrome.  What should I do now?

I would recommend having an evaluation with an experienced surgeon.  I would also recommend that you seek out a surgeon that can perform the surgery endoscopically although great results can still be obtain from the more traditional methods. You can also mention your symptoms to your PCP (primary care provider).  You may be asked to have a nerve test performed to evaluate the severity.  

If you think you might have CTS and would like to have an evaluation, give our office a call at (814) 503-8537.

Note: J. Ryan Rice M.D. is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery the American Board of General Surgery, as well as a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgery and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  He has offices in DuBois, St. Marys and Philipsburg.


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Rice, J. Ryan, MD, FACS


Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery


Penn Highlands Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic SurgeryA Service of Penn Highlands DuBois

Penn Highlands Plastic, Reconstructive, and Cosmetic SurgeryA Service of Penn Highlands DuBois