Are your hands falling asleep? Do you experience tingling? You may have carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel syndromes. DMOS Orthopaedic Centers’ Hand and Upper Extremity Surgeon Dr. Shane Cook shares more about the syndromes as well as prevention and treatment methods.
What is the difference between carpal and cubital tunnel syndromes?
Carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndromes occur from compression of nerves causing tingling and even pain in your hands. Your carpal tunnel is the narrow space inside your wrist containing the median nerve. It is surrounded by your wrist bones or carpals as well as tendons. When your median nerve becomes compressed, it leads to numbness and tingling usually affecting the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring finger.
Cubital tunnel syndrome involves the compression of your ulnar elbow nerve. (A nerve that travels through your arm through a tunnel at your elbow called the cubital to ultimately reach the hand.) This nerve is often affected as a result of the soft tissues around the elbow supporting the nerve can becoming compressive or trapped. Bending the elbow can worsen these symptoms. Furthermore, the compression typically causes numbness and/or tingling in your small and ring finger. This can affect hand function and coordination.
In severe cases, muscles within the hand can be affected and even begin to atrophy or waste away. In cases like this, the damage may not be reversible. If hand function becomes difficult, this may be a sign that you have more advanced disease.
What causes these conditions?
Both of these conditions can be caused by several factors and may or may not be related to a person’s daily activities. However, work activities that require a high degree of repetition and force may increase a person’s risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. A history of diabetes, hypothyroidism, pregnancy and rheumatoid arthritis are also risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome.
How can I prevent carpal and cubital tunnel syndromes?
When you first begin to experience carpal tunnel symptoms wearing neutral wrist splints is the best way to avoid more severe episodes. Avoiding repetitive activity that causes hand numbness and tingling may also slow down the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome.
For cubital tunnel, wearing elbow pads or braces at night to keep the elbow in an extended position may help.
“In general, carpal and cubital tunnel syndromes may not be avoidable. Surgical decompression may be the only way to reliably treat the compression of the median nerve at the wrist and the ulnar nerve at the elbow,” said Dr. Cook.
What are my options for treatment?
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, there are multiple options available to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.