Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. The condition occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand, the median nerve is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.
In most patients, carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse over time, so early diagnosis and treatment are important.
Early on, symptoms can often be relieved with simple measures like wearing a wrist splint or avoiding certain activities.
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.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may include:
- Numbness, tingling, burning, and pain, primarily in the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers
- Occasional shock-like sensations that radiate to the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers
- Pain or tingling that may travel up the forearm toward the shoulder
- Weakness and clumsiness in the hand, this may make it difficult to perform fine movements such as buttoning your clothes
- Dropping things due to weakness, numbness, or a loss of proprioception (awareness of where your hand is in space)
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
Are Some People More Likely to Get It?
Medical conditions sometimes linked to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
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
- Hair stylist
Which Tests Help Diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Your doctor may tap the palm side of your wrist or ask you to fully flex your wrist with your arms completely extended.
Nerve conduction studies. These tests measure the signals travelling in the nerves of your hand and arm and can detect when a nerve is not conducting its signal effectively. Nerve conduction studies can help your doctor determine how severe your problem is and help to guide treatment.
Electromyogram (EMG). An EMG measures the electrical activity in muscles. EMG results can show whether you have any nerve or muscle damage
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
- 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.