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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Health Center

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Topic Overview

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is numbness, tingling, weakness, and other problems in your hand because of pressure on the median nerve in your wrist.

The median nerve and several tendons run from your forearm to your hand through a small space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel camera.gif. The median nerve controls movement and feeling camera.gif in your thumb and first three fingers (not your little finger).

Pressure on the median nerve causes carpal tunnel syndrome. This pressure can come from swelling or anything that makes the carpal tunnel smaller. Many things can cause this swelling, including:

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in the fingers or hand. Some people may have pain in their arm between their hand and their elbow.

Symptoms most often occur in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. If you have problems with your other fingers but your little finger is fine, this may be a sign that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. A different nerve gives feeling to the little finger.

You may first notice symptoms at night. You may be able to get relief by shaking your hand.

Your doctor will ask if you have any health problems—such as arthritis, hypothyroidism, or diabetes—or if you are pregnant. He or she will ask if you recently hurt your wrist, arm, or neck. Your doctor will want to know about your daily routine and any recent activities that could have hurt your wrist.

During the exam, your doctor will check the feeling, strength, and appearance of your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. Your doctor may suggest tests, such as blood tests or nerve tests.

Mild symptoms usually can be treated with home care. You can:

  • Stop activities that cause numbness and pain. Rest your wrist longer between activities.
  • Ice your wrist for 10 to 15 minutes 1 or 2 times an hour.
  • Try taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Wear a wrist splint at night. This takes pressure off your median nerve.

The sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of stopping symptoms and preventing long-term damage to the nerve.

You also may need medicine for carpal tunnel syndrome or for a health problem that made you likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome.

Surgery is an option. But it's usually used only when symptoms are so bad that you can't work or do other things even after several weeks to months of other treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 02, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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