As people age, they sometimes believe that aches and pains are just part of getting older. Some may be concerned about developing a chronic condition like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and when numbness or tingling appears in their fingers, they resign themselves to one more discomfort. That isn’t necessary, and here’s why:
Studies show that the elderly respond well to CTS treatment, even if it means surgery.
One study of octogenarians compared their recovery from endoscopic release surgery with adults in their 60s who had the same surgery. Both groups experienced relief from numbness and night pain, and the study concluded that “Endoscopic release for severe carpal tunnel syndrome relieved symptoms and improved activities of daily living in octogenarians.” Another study revealed that elderly patients “express high levels of satisfaction after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome,” and most report few symptoms post-surgery. For patients over age 70, research shows that surgery as a treatment option offers better relief of symptoms and restoration of function as well as patient satisfaction, so “age should not be considered a contraindication for carpal tunnel surgery.”
Carpal tunnel release surgery only requires a local anesthetic.
Since general anesthetic is sometimes a concern for elderly patients, the fact that both open carpal tunnel release and endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgeries only require a local anesthetic and can be performed on an outpatient basis make these procedures fairly safe for elderly patients. Open carpal tunnel release surgery requires about a 2-inch incision to cut the carpal ligament while endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery makes two smaller incisions and usually offers a shorter recovery time. With either procedure, the carpal ligament will eventually grow back together, but it will be “looser” than it was before, allowing extra space for the median nerve. Keep in mind that surgery is the last resort. Other less invasive treatments are usually prescribed first unless the symptoms of CTS are severe.
Untreated CTS may lead to permanent nerve damage and disability.
CTS is usually a progressive neuropathy which means that the muscles relying on the median nerve for motor nerve input will atrophy if the connection to that nerve is diminished. In severe cases of CTS, a physician can visibly see a wasting away of muscle around the thumb. There could be numbness and a lack of sensitivity to hot and cold, and you might feel as if you can’t coordinate the movements of your fingers very well. Buttoning your shirt becomes a problem. If the median nerve is compressed for a long period of time, it could be permanently damaged, and even surgery cannot reverse that damage.
If you are elderly and suffering from CTS symptoms, it is time to talk to your physician about what your treatment options are, knowing that if the noninvasive first steps don’t work for you, surgery is a good option regardless of your age. Doctorpedia supports you on your wellness journey, offering well-researched, credible articles to help you understand your condition and your treatment options. Our short, easy-to-digest videos feature expert physicians from around the US who are willing to share their expertise in a friendly, approachable way. Whether you are elderly or not, CTS is not a condition you must live with. Treatment options are available for you!
- Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet. (2017). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
- Ettema, A.M., Amadio, P.C., Cha, S.S., Harrington, J.R., Harris, A.M., & Offord, K.P. (2006). Surgery versus conservative therapy in carpal tunnel syndrome in people aged 70 years and older.Plastic Reconstructive Surgery 118(4), 947-60. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16980856
- Hattori, Y., Doi, K., Koide, S., & Sakamoto, S. (2014). Endoscopic release for severe carpal tunnel syndrome in octogenarians. Journal of Hand Surgery 39(12), 2448-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2014.09.018
- Kakar, S. & Bishop, S. (2012). Left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to weakness in fingers and thumb. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/left-untreated-carpal-tunnel-syndrome-can-lead-to-weakness-in-fingers-and-thumb/
- Townshend, D.N., Taylor, P.K., & Gwynne-Jones, D.P. (2005). The outcome of carpal tunnel decompression in elderly patients. Journal of Hand Surgery 30(3), 500-5. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15925159