Carpal Tunnel is caused by pressure on the median nerve. Over time as the pressure increases, patients may experience discomfort in their wrist, hand and fingers, which impacts their daily life.
Oftentimes in the early stages, carpal tunnel is overlooked as fatigue or muscle strain. Even as it progresses, some patients still neglect to seek medical attention because they think they are completely fine. Not getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome diagnosed early on is a big mistake, one that may leave you with permanent nerve damage.
We will go over what Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is, and what can happen if you do not seek treatment.
How Does Carpal Tunnel Develop?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome develops gradually over time. Most patients first notice tingling, numbness or weakness that comes and goes, sometimes accompanied by pain or burning sensation. Symptoms typically appear at night. They can be localized to the palm or fingers, with the exception of the pinky. The condition may affect both hands.
There are a variety of reasons that may cause a patient to develop carpal tunnel syndrome but the most common reasons are:
- Inflammatory health conditions
- Examples include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalance, etc.
- Hand and wrist position
- Repetitive motions
- Jobs and hobbies such as construction or video games are more likely to develop carpal tunnel
What Happens if Carpal Tunnel is Left Untreated?
As carpal tunnel progresses, symptoms may become more constant, more painful and impair hand function.
The weakness in your hand may not only affect your grip strength, but it may affect your daily life as well. This could compromise the ability to drive or perform other simple tasks like washing dishes or buttoning a shirt. In some cases, it may result in work disruptions or absence.
The longer it goes untreated, the more likely carpal tunnel will worsen and cause deterioration of the nerves. Once nerve damage occurs, it is impossible to reverse, making it crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible. Severe cases of carpal tunnel will require surgery, but again, surgery cannot reverse any nerve damage that has already occurred.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Keep track of when you first notice your symptoms. If after four weeks there is no improvement with conservative treatment you should consult your physician.
You should seek treatment earlier if you notice your symptoms are progressing rapidly, you are experiencing loss of motor skills, or have difficulty performing daily tasks as normal.
The earlier you see your doctor the better, as waiting too long can cause irreversible sequelae.
When is it Time for Surgery?
If your symptoms do not improve with treatments and/ or your condition continues to deteriorate, it may be time for surgery. Carpal Tunnel surgery is incredibly common and has over a 95% success rate. Thankfully, newer less-invasive surgical techniques such as the endoscopic release method allow for faster patient recovery and return to normal life.
When left untreated, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can cause irreversible nerve damage that may greatly impact your daily life. Receiving treatment in the early stages of carpal tunnel can be the difference between needing carpal tunnel surgery or not. Even still, over time carpal tunnel may still progress with treatment if patients do not adjust their daily lifestyle.
While it is impossible to completely prevent carpal tunnel from occurring, there are steps you can take to help decrease your risk factor. Using proper hand and wrist position, and taking breaks from repetitive movements are two of the biggest steps patients can take outside of their treatments. If your symptoms are not improving with other forms of treatment, or your condition continues to deteriorate, you must take action quickly. Oftentimes, patients make the mistake of waiting too long to seek treatment and ultimately get carpal tunnel surgery.
If your carpal tunnel has progressed to the point of needing surgery, you should consult with a surgeon whose practice is 100% dedicated to the treatment of hands and wrists. Dr. Brutus is a pioneer in minimally invasive hand surgery in Canada.