Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

If you’re feeling numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hand, consider asking your doctor to check you for carpal tunnel syndrome.

It's caused by pressure on your median nerve, which runs the length of the arm, goes through a passage in the wrist called the carpal tunnel, and ends in the hand. The median controls the movement and feeling of your thumb, and also the movement of all your fingers except your pinky.

The carpal tunnel is narrowed as a result, usually from swelling.

Carpal Tunnel SyndromeOften, people don't know what brought on their carpal tunnel syndrome. But it can happen due to:

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome and don't get it treated, its symptoms can last a long time, get worse, and can even go away and return. When your doctor diagnoses it early, it's easier to treat.

What Are the Symptoms?

You may feel a burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of your hand and thumb, or index and middle fingers.

You might first notice that your fingers "fall asleep" and become numb at night. That usually happens in the evening because of the relaxed position of your hand and while sleeping.

In the morning, you may wake up with numbness and tingling in your hands that may run all the way to your shoulder.

What Happens in Severe Cases?

As carpal tunnel syndrome becomes more severe, you may have less grip strength because the muscles in your hand shrink. Pain and muscle cramping will also become worse.

The median nerve begins to lose function because of the irritation or pressure around it. This leads to:

  • Slower nerve impulses
  • Loss of feeling in the fingers
  • A loss of strength and coordination, especially the ability to use your thumb to pinch

You could end up with permanent muscle damage and lose function in your hand. So, don't put off seeing a doctor.

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Are Some People More Likely to Get It?

Medical conditions sometimes linked to carpal tunnel syndrome include:

Women are three times more likely than men to get the condition. That may be because in general they have a smaller carpal tunnel than men. When the condition is brought on by pregnancy, the symptoms usually clear up within a few months after delivery.

Certain jobs that involve repeating the same motion with your arm over a long time may raise your chances of getting the condition.

Those jobs include:

  • Assembly line worker
  • Sewer or knitter
  • Baker
  • Cashier
  • Hair stylist
  • Musician

Which Tests Help Diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Your doctor may ask you to tap the palm side of your wrist or fully flex your wrist with your arms completely extended.

Another test called EMG-NCV measures the function of the nerve across the carpal tunnel.

How’s It Treated?

  • Lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are due to repetitive motion, you can take more frequent breaks or do a bit less of the activity that’s causing you pain. Certain stretching and strengthening exercises could help, too. Speak with your doctor.
  • Immobilization. The doctor may have you use a splint to keep your wrist from moving and to lessen pressure on the nerves. You may wear one at night to help get rid of that numbness or tingling feeling. This can help you sleep better and give your median nerve a rest.
  • Medication . Your doctor may give you anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid shots to reduce swelling.
  • Surgery. If none of the above treatments work, an operation may be an option. Talk with your doctor about it.

What Can I Do to Help Myself?

  • Keep your wrists straight.
  • Use a splint or brace that helps keep your wrist in a neutral position.
  • Avoid flexing and extending your wrists repeatedly.
  • Talk to your doctor about exercises that may help.
  • Correctly position your hands and wrists while working.
  • Arrange your activity and workspace in a way that minimizes any discomfort.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on October 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

National Institutes of Health.

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