People living with carpal tunnel often experience tingling, numbness and other symptoms in their hands and arms. Carpal tunnel occurs when a nerve is compressed in the carpal tunnel, which is a narrow passageway on the palm-side of your wrist. Contributing factors of carpal tunnel include: your hand’s anatomy, certain health problems and possibly repetitive hand motions. While carpal tunnel causes uncomfortable symptoms, proper treatment often restores normal hand and wrist function and relieves symptoms.
What Are Carpal Tunnel Symptoms?
Typically, carpal tunnel symptoms start gradually and then increase over time. In the beginning, you may only notice slight numbness or tingling in your thumb or other fingers that comes and goes. However, as carpal tunnel progresses, you may notice an increase in symptoms as well as wrist or hand pain.
Common Carpal Tunnel Symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness—You may experience numbness or tingling in your thumb, middle fingers or index finger, but not in your pinky finger. Some people may feel the sensation of an electric shock as well. You may notice these sensations travel up your wrist and into your arm when you are holding certain things, like a phone or book. In addition, these sensations may wake you up from sleep. As carpal tunnel progresses, the tingling may feel more constant.
- Weakness—You may feel weakness in your hand or have a tendency to drop things. This may occur as a result of the numbness or weakness in your thumb’s pinching muscles.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve goes from your forearm through a passageway in your wrist called the carpal tunnel to your hand. It provides nerve signals and feeling to your palm, thumb and fingers (except your little finger).
When the median nerve has pressure on it, carpal tunnel syndrome may occur. Typically, there isn’t one single cause for carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, it’s usually a result of a variety of causes.
How Is Carpal Tunnel Diagnosed?
To accurately diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor will likely take a detailed medical history, perform a physical exam and send you for other tests.
These tests may include X-rays to rule out fractures or arthritis, an electromyogram to measure tiny electrical discharges of muscles and a nerve conduction test to see if the electrical impulses of the median nerve are slowed in the carpal tunnel.
How Is Carpal Tunnel Treated?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the severity of your symptoms. Some doctors may prescribe NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and inflammation. In addition, your doctor may want to inject the area with a corticosteroid to relieve pain. Your doctor may send you to see an occupational therapist to help you learn ways to manage carpal tunnel syndrome.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome is severe or doesn’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. The main goal of carpal tunnel surgery is to relieve pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that’s pressing on it. Your doctor will refer you to a specialist in hand surgery to perform the surgery.