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Surgery Frees Patient From Debilitating Bonds

Surgery Frees Patient From Debilitating Bonds of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Bill CowgerFor 17 years, Bill Cowger led a touch-andgo coexistence with carpal tunnel syndrome – a painful progressive condition caused by compression of a nerve in the wrist. Despite the occasional sharp, piercing pain that shot through his left wrist and arm, Bill managed to keep up with his work as a groundskeeper at Hopewell School District and as a volunteer firefighter for the Big Beaver Borough Volunteer Fire Department.

"Although carpal tunnel syndrome was becoming a disruption in my life, I guess I just learned to live with it," said Bill, 46, a resident of Big Beaver Borough.

But it was when his left hand began to fail him, that Bill knew it was time to seek medical help.

"My hand became so numb that I began losing my grip on tools and equipment. That was a big problem since my condition was affecting my ability to do my job," recalls Bill.

Bill was referred to Allegheny General Hospital's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and met with Thomas B. Hughes Jr., M.D., a hand and upper extremities specialist. Because Bill had an advanced form of carpal tunnel syndrome, non-surgical treatment options such as splints and injections were ruled out. Dr. Hughes told Bill that surgery was his best hope of relieving pain and numbness, while restoring normal function to his wrist and hand.

"While many patients with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome have intermittent numbness and pain, Bill's condition had progressed to constant symptoms – usually a sign of some changes in the nerve," said Dr. Hughes. "We recommended surgery to restore blood flow to the nerve that was constricted in the carpal tunnel. Once blood flow was returned, the nerve needed to heal before Bill could return to an active lifestyle."

In September 2007, Dr. Hughes performed a minimally invasive technique involving a ¾ inch incision in the center of Bill's palm. "Patients generally have an easier time recovering from this procedure than the more traditional incision for carpal tunnel syndrome," said Dr. Hughes, who performs up to 200 procedures of this type each year.

Following surgery, Bill began physical rehabilitation at the Human Motion Center site in Cranberry, Pa., and returned to work two months later. The change in Bill's health has been remarkable.

"I no longer have any pain or numbness in my hand," said Bill, who has also resumed woodworking and cooking – his two favorite pastimes. "And my strength has gradually returned. I'm deeply indebted to Dr. Hughes and the rest of the staff at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for restoring full use of my hand. Now it feels as good as new!"

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