Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

The carpal tunnel is a space near the wrist and palm where 9 tendons and the median nerve make a narrow passage under a tight band of tissue, the transverse carpal ligament. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the tendons swell so much in the tight space that they put pressure on the nerve. Everyday use of the hands and certain positions of the wrist during daytime and nighttime, in certain instances, may be the only cause.

MEDICAL HISTORY

Patients usually complain of pain, numbness, and tingling that begins in the wrist region and travels out to the fingertips of the thumb, index, long, and ring fingers. The symptoms are often worse in the middle of the night causing waking or in the morning. Driving, fixing one’s hair and time at the computer are other problem activities. When severe patients may even lose coordination and drop things.

EXAMINATION

Pressure applied over the nerve at the wrist will recreate the pain, numbness, and tingling. The doctor will measure strength in the muscles (motor) and feeling ability (sensory) in the skin for specific areas serviced by the median nerve. In more advanced conditions, patients will demonstrate loss of motor and sensory functions.

ADDITIONAL TESTS

Electrical nerve tests provide actual numbers that tell the story of how well or poorly the nerve is conducting signals in the area of the carpal tunnel and if the muscles have sustained any damage as a result of prolonged nerve pressure. 

TREATMENT OPTIONS

Despite what you may hear, Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release (ECTR) is not a new procedure, nor was it developed here in Houston. It was originally developed in 1987 by Dr. James Chow, MD, a highly respected hand surgeon in Illinois. Although some surgeons try to make this procedure seem unique by giving it a special name, it is still just a carpal tunnel release using a fiber-optic camera called an endoscope.

The correct (and fully inclusive) procedure code (CPT) used to bill an endoscopic tunnel release is 29848. As of 1/1/2019 our usual and customary surgeon’s fee for this procedure is $1,178.23. Please call for an up to date price. This fee does not include the hospital’s or anesthesiologist’s charge, and does change frequently. Most insurance companies and government payors such as Medicare either negotiate or legislate a discount for themselves.

Patients should be aware of several small but important differences among the various ways to view the inside of the carpal tunnel with an endoscope while cutting or “releasing” the carpal ligament with a blade. Perhaps the most important difference has to do with safety. In procedures where the surgeon operates the camera and the blade separately through two incisions, it is an unfortunate complication when the median nerve is accidentally cut.

The ECTR equipment Dr. Henry uses was developed by Dr. John Agee, MD, a hand surgeon in California. The design affixes the camera on the retractable blade at all times, which allows the surgeon to see exactly where, and what, the blade will cut. The endoscope and blade assembly all work together as a unit inserted through a single 1cm incision, with the blade retracted in the default position, and thus unable to inadvertently cut anything (like a nerve or tendon) until the surgeon chooses to deploy the blade. We believe this is the safest method for ECTR.

  NON-OPERATIVE ENDOSCOPIC CARPAL TUNNEL RELEASE
CONSISTS OF Night splints, ergonomic training, and cortisone shots into the carpal tunnel Release of the tight band, taking pressure off the nerve
FEATURES Limit of 2 cortisone shots designed to shrink tendon swelling Brief outpatient surgery using a fiber optic camera via a single 1cm incision at the wrist
ADVANTAGES Avoids surgery Definitive solution to problem
DISADVANTAGES Only effective in mild cases Always the risk of scar tissue forming near nerve
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RECOVERY

After the surgery no splints are used and there are no sutures that will need to be removed. Immediate use of the hand is encouraged for all light activities of daily living. Even forceful or heavy use of the hand is possible immediately, but such early over activity will be painful and is not encouraged. Specific therapy exercises should be done to limit scarring around the nerve. Return to a normal lifestyle is quite rapid.

Houston Hand and Wrist