Thrive by IU Health

September 05, 2023

Driving through the pain: the light at the end of the (carpal) tunnel

IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital

Driving through the pain: the light at the end of the (carpal) tunnel

Driving down the road, Rex Agnsley’s right hand started to fall asleep, a dangerous thing to happen while driving. For the past four years, he experienced issues with his wrist and hand. After three years, the pain started to rise up the arm. “It was affecting my elbow, my shoulder, everything,” he said. It felt like, “pins and needles and a constant ache. A constant hurt.”

Agnsley, 64, was struggling from a condition called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). CTS is a nerve condition in which a nerve in the wrist is pinched. Many people experience this when they practice a repetitive motion. For Agnsley, it was from the 31 years he spent working in a factory.

Agnsley currently drives the Amish for work in his hometown of Hagerstown, Indiana. “I drive a lot,” he says, “and when I put my right hand up on the steering wheel, then my hand would go to sleep.” The pain would continue at home, “and when I’m on the computer, using the mouse, my hand would go to sleep. I had to put it down by my side and let it dangle so it could come back.”

For Agnsley, his CTS was starting to impact his quality of life in a negative way. So, he reached out to his primary care physician. She recommended he visit Jacob Triplet, DO, at the IU Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine center. Only a few days later he was at his first consultation.

During the appointment, Dr. Triplet evaluated Agnsley’s condition and set up a follow-up to have additional testing done. “Dr. Triplet is so easy to talk to, easy to work with. He explains everything,” says Agnsley. They discussed his treatment options which included either an injection or surgery. The surgery would make a tunnel for the nerve to pass through without any compression. The steroid injection would temporarily ease the nerve pressure, thus reducing the pain. “[Dr. Triplet] said that with the shot, there was no guarantee. And that’s why I chose to do the surgery.”

When Agnsley received his test results, they discovered his CTS was severe, not slight to moderate like they had initially thought. When it was time to prepare for surgery, Agnlsey had a few concerns. He had undergone previous heart surgery and faced complications during the procedure. “The nurses had to call my cardiologist and get their approval for everything before going into this surgery.” He says, “I explained to Dr. Triplet that my last heart surgery had some complications. I was not looking forward to going back.”

To accommodate Agnsley’s needs, they set up a bier block, or intravenous local anesthesia (IVRA). “They put two tourniquets around your arm. One on your upper arm and one below your elbow. This allows for better blood flow,” he says. “It turned out just great. I was in twilight.”

After his surgery, Agnsley was able to go back to his daily life. By the time of his check-up appointment two weeks later, his bandages were already removed. "Dr. Triplet asked me how I felt, and I said, ‘if it gets no better than it is right now then I’m satisfied because it was great.’” He says.

The main thing Agnsley wanted from the surgery was to get it done and be able to go back to normal. Two months after the surgery, Agnsley feels completely normal again, back to before he even started noticing the carpel tunnel four years ago. “I can eat a meal again,” he laughs, looking back to before the surgery when he couldn’t even eat without his hand going to sleep.

“Dr. Triplet and the team at IU Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and the team at the hospital, everybody is excellent,” he says.

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