Severe carpal tunnel syndrome may lead to the degeneration of muscles and nerves, which is known as atrophy. When this occurs, a person may notice indents and dry skin on the hand.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects nerve function in the hand and wrist. People with carpal tunnel syndrome may feel tingling and numbness in their hands and fingertips.

Without proper treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to atrophy, which is wasting of the nerves and muscles. However, many people with carpal tunnel syndrome can avoid atrophy through preventive measures and medical care.

Keep reading to learn more about carpal tunnel atrophy, including the causes, risk factors, and prevention strategies.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms generally become more severe over time. During the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, people may notice pain and numbness. These sensations typically occur in the thumb and the ring, middle, and index fingers.

Tingling or pain may move up along the forearm as the condition progresses. People may begin to have difficulty with routine tasks that require grip strength, such as opening jars or twisting a doorknob.

In advanced carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle and nerve atrophy can occur.

People with carpal tunnel atrophy may notice an indentation in the bulging area at the base of the thumb, which is known as the thenar eminence. This occurs as the muscles around the thenar eminence shrink.

As nerve atrophy reduces the amount of sweating in the hands and fingers, people may also notice dry skin on the hand.

Small, repetitive motions of the hands and wrists may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome over time. Some activities that increase the risk of this condition include:

  • typing on a keyboard
  • using a computer mouse
  • using hand tools regularly
  • engaging in sports that require handheld equipment, such as a baseball bat or tennis racket
  • using a wheelchair or walking aid, which can lead to prolonged force through the wrist

Other factors can also increase the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, older individuals are more likely to experience it. A 2018 study found that the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome is highest between the ages of 45 and 65 years.

A higher body mass index (BMI) also increases the chance of carpal tunnel syndrome. People with obesity have a greater amount of fat surrounding the nerves in the hand and wrist. This fat can put extra pressure on the nerves, which may increase the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Smoking, regular alcohol use, and a lack of exercise are examples of lifestyle risk factors. People who have experienced wrist injuries such as sprains and fractures are also at increased risk, as are those with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis.

About 90% of mild or moderate cases of carpal tunnel syndrome respond to conservative treatment. However, without medical attention, carpal tunnel syndrome can sometimes progress to advanced nerve and muscle atrophy. At this stage, damage to the nerves and muscles is irreversible.

Individuals who experience carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms should visit a medical professional as soon as possible. Taking steps to get treatment quickly is the only way to avoid permanent damage to the nerves and muscles.

Early management strategies can prevent atrophy. These strategies may include wearing a wrist brace during sleep and resting the affected area. People who do not receive or respond to conservative treatment may require surgery.

Individuals with carpal tunnel atrophy may experience permanent symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The only way to avoid long-term damage is to receive proper medical care as soon as possible.

If carpal tunnel syndrome advances to the point of atrophy, the damage can become permanent. People who develop symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can take steps to manage and treat the condition before it advances.

Wearing a wrist splint

Doctors generally recommend a wrist splint as a preliminary treatment for people with carpal tunnel syndrome. A wrist splint is an inexpensive and relatively convenient form of treatment.

Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome will need to wear the splint during sleep to manage their symptoms. They may also choose to wear a splint when performing activities that cause pain or tingling.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroid injections can reduce the inflammation and pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, a doctor may use an ultrasound scan to determine the best location for the injection site. The injection procedure is relatively painless and generally safe.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist may be able to help manage mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. They might recommend exercises that stretch the hand, neck, and shoulders to reduce symptoms. They may also suggest that people with carpal tunnel syndrome try yoga or other low-impact forms of exercise.

A 2017 study found that people who underwent physical therapy experienced the same benefit after a year as people who had surgery. However, the best treatment option still varies among individuals. Anyone interested in physical therapy should speak with a primary care physician to learn more.

Carpal tunnel surgery

In certain cases, doctors may advise surgical decompression for individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome. This technique helps reduce pressure on the median nerve and can minimize symptoms.

People with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms should speak with their doctor to determine the right course of treatment. With proper care, it is possible to manage the symptoms and prevent severe atrophy.

The recovery time for carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment.

According to research in 2014, about 75–90 out of 100 people experience relief following carpal tunnel surgery or report improved or no symptoms several years after this procedure.

Most people who undergo carpal tunnel surgery do not have any serious complications. It is possible to recover from surgical decompression within a month or so.

In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can progress to a severe level before treatment. Some individuals with advanced carpal tunnel syndrome may not be able to make a full recovery. They may experience permanent symptoms, such as tingling or muscle weakness.

People who notice symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome should visit a medical professional as soon as possible. Early treatment can reduce the risk of long-term complications. By getting quality treatment early on, people with carpal tunnel syndrome can make a full recovery.

Advanced carpal tunnel syndrome may lead to nerve and muscle atrophy. This wasting of nerve and muscle tissue can cause permanent damage without timely treatment.

There are many treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome, ranging from wrist splinting to surgical decompression. Getting treatment early on is the best way to prevent any long-term damage from this condition.

Individuals who experience carpal tunnel syndrome should discuss their treatment options with a medical professional.