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The 3 Things You Need to Know Before Getting Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Dr. Arnan Sisson, PT/ 8/29/2022

Are you currently struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome from all of the typing you are doing while surfing the web, cooking, or just writing? Here are the three things you need to know to fix your carpal tunnel problem!

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

A lot of people don’t even know what the carpal tunnel is. You need to know what the carpal tunnel is before you know if there’s a problem. Your carpal tunnel is an area in your wrist where a bunch of nerves and ligaments run through. And then there’s a ligament that runs over it, which is what makes it look like a tunnel.

It’s a really small space. It’s supposed to be small and it’s the term used for this anatomical space. Many times, when people are having wrist pain, that’s the first thing people blame for the pain. But, what people don’t know is there’s a lot of different muscles in your shoulder and your neck that can actually refer pain down to your wrist.

Honestly, carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s just a name for a bunch of symptoms. Many times people experience symptoms like numbness and tingling in their hand, or they just get a lot of pain when typing. But, a lot of other problems in your body can lead to those same symptoms. It’s important to find the cause so that you can fix the problem!

One of the biggest culprits is Dr. Google, because what happens is you’re thinking, “Why is there pain in my wrist?” You’re sitting at your computer, and you ask Dr. Google, who tells you that it’s carpal tunnel syndrome, and so you go see your primary care provider. You tell them that you think you have carpal tunnel syndrome. And they agree with you. But, here’s the thing, it may not actually be a carpal tunnel problem. It could be a shoulder problem, a neck problem, or a forearm problem.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an inflammatory process in this little space in your wrist that’s making it crowded and so you’re irritating the nerves and tendons. So, if you’ve had an injection, and if it still hurts after the injection, it’s probably not the inflammation that’s causing the pain and symptoms that you’re having. Therefore, it might not be carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are some of the other problems that can cause pain at the wrist and hand?

There’s a couple of muscles in your neck that, when you press on them, they reproduce those symptoms in your wrist and hand.  That’s a good sign because it means that we found the problem. Now we know that we just need to loosen up your neck a little bit more and help your neck move better, which will fix the problem and take away those symptoms. There’s also some of your rotator cuff muscles. Many times, people’s shoulders don’t move well and their rotator cuff muscles just get all tight and irritated and those muscles can refer pain all the way down to your hand. But, a lot of people don’t know that, so they don’t know where to look to fix the problem.

We also have had clients who only had carpal tunnel symptoms when they were lifting overhead at a YMCA class or while swimming, and the problem was actually tightness in their neck and shoulder. Another term that people call that is thoracic outlet syndrome, but that is also just describing a general region where there are problems. It still takes some detective work to find the root cause of the issue.

Another cause of people’s problems that we see often are breathing problems. Breathing without using the proper muscles causes neck tightness because if you’re not using your diaphragm, like if you have asthma or you’ve had a baby, and your diaphragm and your pelvic floor aren’t working well together, then you’re going to breathe more in your upper chest. Those muscles can get overworked and get tight, leading to pain. As those muscles stay tight, sometimes it’s not the tightness that causes the symptoms. It’s the overload on your body with repetitive movements.

It could be an overhead lift or it could be holding a grandbaby. It could be just being stressed at work, not getting enough massage and your body’s amped up, and your muscles, one or two muscles will spasm. Now you’ve got symptoms down in your wrist and hand. These don’t go away, and suddenly, you’re debating getting surgery for your wrist.

Will surgery fix your problem?

So, here’s the thing with surgery, a lot of times, patients have come to us and said, “Oh well my doctor says it’s just routine surgery.” Well, Dr. I’m here to tell you that routine surgery is great on the physicians and surgeons’ sides. It is routine for them, but surgery is never going to be routine for you.

It’s not something that you do on a regular basis like walking and exercise. So, when you have surgery, that means a minimum of six weeks of recovery because it takes a minimum of six weeks for tissues to heal, probably eight weeks. And if your wrist is locked down in a brace for a while, it’s going to probably take three to six months to get your motion back and your strength back.

And that’s a long time to wait for relief, compared to patients at our clinic, who generally see relief in about three to five visits. We can make a huge difference in your symptoms; and your ability to: cook, type, play, lift, carry, or whatever it is that you’re struggling with. And surgery will always be there as a back-up plan. A lot of people don’t actually know that we can help you with these problems. We CAN help.

We specialize in looking at where the problem is coming from. We’re like detectives, we find the cause of your problem. Then, we work together to find out where the issue is coming from, and fix the issue that is bothering you. We also make sure that we talked to you about your overall goals and where you want to be next year, so we can make sure that this doesn’t happen again or we don’t have a problem on the other side. That happens a lot, right?

So, how do we fix this long-term?

Even if you have had surgery, go see a PT. If you start to feel symptoms on the other side or if you want to get that strength and range of motion back, go see a PT. See one for a second opinion if you’re considering surgery. They can see if the problem is actually at the carpal tunnel or if something deeper is going on.

To answer that question, you need a Discovery Visit. This is a no cost obligation, 20 to 25 minute appointment with us where we take a look at you head to toe. We can find the root cause of your issue, and let you know if we can help, if you need surgery, or if services like massage or yoga could help.

If that’s something that you think would be helpful to you, give us a call at (804) 493-3256, or apply on our website!