Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common painful condition which affects the hand and wrist. Carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist which is bound by bones and ligaments. Its size is about as big as the thumb and it is present on the palm side of wrist. The main nerve to the hand (median nerve) and tendons that bend the fingers pass through this tunnel. The syndrome affects more women than men. About 10% of adults develop CTS in their lifetime.
In many cases the symptoms of CTS are mild, and they usually don't last long. Sometimes the symptoms resolve (disappear) on their own. With treatment, most people with CTS recover completely and only about 1 percent of people with carpal tunnel syndrome develop permanent injury. Many people with mild symptoms are able to ease their discomfort by taking more frequent breaks to rest their hands and applying cold packs to reduce occasional swelling. Recurrence of symptoms in a person with CTS can occur after successful treatment.
CTS which develops during pregnancy is usually less severe than the one whose cause is not known (idiopathic). Most women with CTS during pregnancy do not require surgical treatment. CTS in most pregnant women improve in about three months after the baby is born. Occasionally, the symptoms can continue for over a year.
The duration for which the symptoms of CTS may last depends a lot on its cause. For example, if the symptom is caused by overuse during sports, it may improve quickly with treatment, rest and modified activity. However, if carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by arthritis, symptoms may be more difficult to treat and can recur.
People with mild to moderate symptoms for less than 10 months may get relief with splinting and other conservative treatments. If CTS is not treated, some people may develop chronic weakness of the hand, numbness and nerve damage. Surgery performed on patients with severe symptoms, or on those who do not benefit from conservative treatment, usually improves symptoms. Most people have permanent relief from symptoms but recurrence can occur in some. According to different studies, rate of recurrence varies from 1 to 10%.
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