More Tunnels Than Just Carpal
Carpal tunnel is a condition that gets plenty of attention today, in part because it is one of the more common types of nerve damage that can occur in the arm and hand. However, carpal tunnel isn’t the only nerve damage that can occur in the hand. There are actually three main nerves that carry messages from the brain to the hand and any of these can become compressed, leading to pain, loss of function and sometimes permanent damage. At The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction, our experienced surgeons work with all of these conditions, providing nerve decompression surgery that often restores function and improves quality of life for the patient.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is located in the wrist and contains the median nerve. This nerve runs from the forearm to the hand and controls feeling on the inside of the hand around the thumb, index finger and long fingers. When the median nerve is compressed, it can lead to numbness, burning or tingling of the hand and the affected fingers.
Carpal tunnel is common among people that work with their hands in jobs that require the same repetitive motions over and over. Typing, repairing cars, working a cash register or playing a musical instrument are all activities that can lead to this problem. In many cases, non-surgical treatments like splinting and medication are tried first in an effort to manage symptoms.
However, when these treatments do not provide sufficient relief, surgery can be done to decompress the nerve on a more permanent basis.
Radial Tunnel Syndrome
The radial nerve extends from the shoulder to the hand, where it affects feeling in the back of the hand around the thumb, index finger and tall fingers. Compression of the radial nerve frequently occurs around the elbow in the radial tunnel, leading to weakness of the hand, loss of function and persistent discomfort including burning, tingling or pain.
Radial tunnel syndrome is often caused by an injury to the arm, such as a fracture. Other possible causes include pressure on the nerve due to a sleep position or long-term constriction of the nerve caused by a tight watch band or other factor. Treatment for radial tunnel syndrome often follows the same protocol as carpal tunnel syndrome, featuring medication, splinting or steroid shots to relieve the discomfort. If those treatment options don’t work, surgical decompression of the radial nerve can offer significant relief.
The cubital tunnel is also located around the elbow and houses the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve is sometimes referred to as the “funny bone” because this is the nerve that is affected when you bump your elbow and experience that shock-like feeling. The nerve also affects feeling and function in the hand around the ring finger and little finger.
Cubital tunnel syndrome usually occurs as a result of pressure on the elbow, due to leaning or sleeping on it. Direct injury to the nerve can also lead to the onset of this condition. Treatment might include bracing the elbow at night to keep it in a straight position, medication or steroid injections. After those treatment options have been tried, surgical decompression of the ulnar nerve will often bring relief from pain and prevent the muscles from wasting due to reduced function.
Most decompression procedures like these can be performed on an outpatient basis, meaning you can go home the same day as your surgery. While recovery may take a number of weeks, the relief from discomfort and loss of function can be very long-lasting. To learn more about decompression surgery, contact The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction at 866-263-9123.