Surgical Treatment For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Is One Of The Most Common Surgical Procedures Performed In The U.S.
Technological Advancements Contribute to the Rise in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Disability Claims
Dr. Jeffrey E. Budoff, a respected board certified orthopedic surgeon in Houston, TX, who specializes in hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder treatments states: “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is mainly a work-related, repetitive motion injury and is defined as a compression of the median nerve. If you suffer from pain or numbness in the hand or forearm region, you can conclude that you have Carpal Tunnel syndrome.”
Repetitive motions involving the arms, hands, and wrists and cause or exacerbate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Consider the number of retail workers who wear supportive gloves, braces, and bands at the checkout stand. Cashier work, bagging — even marking inventory with a stamping gun for hours can cause CTS. Factory workers and assembly line production workers are also prone to developing CTS.
This rise in work-related carpal tunnel injuries has fueled the self-help product industry — walk into any local pharmacy or self-help grocery store aisle and you will see a wide array of support and pain relief products available over-the-counter that specifically mention CTS or CTS-like symptoms. Online, you can also find countless homeopathic options, copper bands, magnetic bands, crystals — the list of “cures” and “treatment” for CTS is long and filled with useless, and sometimes even harmful, treatments.
CTS is not isolated to blue-collar repetitive jobs. CTS is seen across all professions that require use of the hands. This includes scientific and laboratory work, surgery, pharmacy work, and any occupation that requires the use of a computer or mobile device puts — all of which puts workers at risk for developing carpal tunnel injuries. Computer and IT professionals, as well as those whose jobs simply require them to use a keyboard of any kind of work for a period of time, are all at risk of developing CTS. Artists and musicians are also prone to developing CTS.
Traditional Medical Treatments for CTS
According to the National Institutes of Health, carpal tunnel release is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the United States. In today’s world of technology we have made advancements in efficiency and work productivity that, unfortunately, has contributed to the rise in the number of reported cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome should begin as early as possible, under a doctor’s direction. Underlying causes such as diabetes or arthritis should be treated first. Initial treatment generally involves resting the affected hand and wrist for at least 2 weeks, avoiding activities that may worsen symptoms, and immobilizing the wrist in a splint to avoid further damage from twisting or bending. If there is inflammation, applying cool packs can help reduce swelling.
Generally recommended if symptoms last for 6 months, surgery involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Surgery is done under local anesthesia and does not require an overnight hospital stay. Many patients require surgery on both hands. The following are types of carpal tunnel release surgery:
Open release surgery, the traditional procedure used to correct carpal tunnel syndrome, consists of making an incision up to 2 inches in the wrist and then cutting the carpal ligament to enlarge the carpal tunnel. The procedure is generally done under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis, unless there are unusual medical considerations.
Endoscopic surgery may allow faster functional recovery and less postoperative discomfort than traditional open release surgery. The surgeon makes two incisions (about ½ inch each) in the wrist and palm, inserts a camera attached to a tube, observes the tissue on a screen, and cuts the carpal ligament (the tissue that holds joints together). This two-portal endoscopic surgery, generally performed under local anesthesia, is effective and minimizes scarring and scar tenderness, if any. Single portal endoscopic surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is also available and can result in less post-operative pain and a minimal scar. It generally allows individuals to resume some normal activities in a short period of time.
Although symptoms may be relieved immediately after surgery, full recovery from carpal tunnel surgery can take months. Some patients may have infection, nerve damage, stiffness, and pain at the scar. Occasionally the wrist loses strength because the carpal ligament is cut. Patients should undergo physical therapy after surgery to restore wrist strength. Some patients may need to adjust job duties or even change jobs after recovery from surgery.
Recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome following successful treatment is rare, however, even though the majority of patients recover completely, not all do. The patient’s health, the skill of the surgeon, and the degree of the injury are all important factors that make each case involving CTS unique. However, because surgery can be effective in the majority of cases, when a professional files a disability claim for CTS, the initial response from most insurers is to deny the claim.