Orthopedic specialists often rely on x-rays and MRIs to get an “inside look” at the source of their patient’s pain. Some also use ultrasound. Not all orthopedists use the power of ultrasound technology to diagnose painful conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). 

Ultrasounds capture images of the body’s soft tissues by using harmless high-frequency sound waves. But musculoskeletal ultrasound offers several distinct advantages to practitioners who treat orthopedic injuries.

Diagnostic Ultrasound for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

When trying to diagnose the exact source of a patient’s orthopedic pain, musculoskeletal ultrasound is particularly helpful because:

  • Muscle and joint movements can be assessed in real-time.
  • Tendon and ligament tears that are often missed with MRIs can be accurately diagnosed.
  • Unlike MRIs, surgical hardware such as screws or rods does not interfere with the ability to see soft tissue injuries.
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound can identify tissue swelling and inflammation, which provides for greater accuracy, safety, and comfort when performing joint, tendon, and nerve injections.

We serve a large population of hard-working individuals whose jobs require manual labor and continuous hand and wrist motion. Many of our patients do not have the ability to take off work for a long recovery, so interventional treatments can be quickly provided once a diagnosis is made. Insurance typically does not cover non-surgical treatments without objective evidence of CTS. Using ultrasound imaging to provide evidence of injury gives an anatomical reference point for defining the condition. 

Signs and Symptoms of CTS

For those whose CTS reacts quickly to repetitive movements and symptoms appear within minutes of that activity, it is usually associated with median nerve swelling. This is easily detected using ultrasound. The median nerve can relate directly or indirectly to irritation or compression to the nerve which causes pain in the hand and wrists. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is typically described as a dull, achy discomfort and pain in the hand. It can also cause weakness or numbness and tingling in the hand or wrist along the median nerve.

When the median nerve is compressed or “kinked,” reduced blood flow occurs. Over time, this compression leads to inflammation and eventually causes the protein to leak into the tissues. This cycle continues until there are physical nerve changes. 

Ultrasound Technology for Carpal Tunnel Release

Using ultrasound to aid in the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is increasing in popularity. Using the most cutting-edge technology for treatments is not enough unless there are new state-of-the-art ways to diagnose a painful condition.

At OrthoIdaho, Dr. Joseph performs a carpal tunnel release using the latest technologies from Sonex Health – the SX-One MicroKnife with ultrasound guidance. The carpal tunnel release is when the Transverse Carpal Ligament (TCL) is cut to make more space for the median nerve, reducing compression. This procedure using ultrasound guidance provides a look into the critical anatomy of the wrist and hand. 

Not only does this make it easier and more effective for physicians to safely transect the TCL, but protects sensitive anatomical structures. Patients experience less downtime and typically return to work in 3-6 days, and only need over-the-counter NSAIDs for pain relief. Because of the minimally invasive nature of this procedure, only a small incision is made, making this an easy out-patient procedure that can be done in-office using only local anesthesia. 

Ultrasound is a convenient, easy, and cost-effective method for diagnosing and treating conditions, and is quickly becoming a patient preference. Regardless of how the CTS is treated – steroid injections, physical therapy, or minimally-invasive treatments –  ultrasound technology provides an element of consistent follow-up that would be otherwise difficult using other forms of testing. 

Our diagnostic ultrasound lab provides the most detailed visualization possible of joints, tendons, muscles and nerves. Combined with our medical expertise, this means our patients receive targeted diagnoses and treatments directly at the source of their pain and injury.

Contact Dr. Joseph and his team to learn more about this technology and treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.