“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
— Richard James Molloy
Symptoms & DiagnosisCarpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist.
A number of factors can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, including the anatomy of your wrist, certain underlying health problems and possibly patterns of hand use.
Bound by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel protects a main nerve to your hand and the nine tendons that bend your fingers.
Compression of the nerve produces the numbness, tingling and, eventually, hand weakness that characterize carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fortunately, for most people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome, proper treatment usually can relieve the tingling and numbness and restore wrist and hand function.
Carpal tunnel syndrome:
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs as a result of compression of the median nerve.
The median nerve runs from your forearm through a passageway in your wrist (carpal tunnel) to your hand. It provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb and fingers, with the exception of your little finger. It also provides nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of your thumb (motor function).
In general, anything that crowds, irritates or compresses the median nerve in the carpal tunnel space can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, a wrist fracture can narrow the carpal tunnel and irritate the nerve, as can the swelling and inflammation resulting from rheumatoid arthritis.
In many cases, no single cause can be identified. It may be that a combination of risk factors contributes to the development of the condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome usually starts gradually with numbness or tingling in your thumb, index and middle fingers that comes and goes. This may be associated with discomfort in your wrist and hand. Common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness. You may experience tingling and numbness in your fingers or hand, especially your thumb and index, middle or ring fingers, but not your little finger. This sensation often occurs while holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper or, commonly, waking you from sleeping. The sensation may extend from your wrist up your arm.Many people “shake out” their hands to try to relieve their symptoms. As the disorder progresses, the numb feeling may become constant.
- Weakness. You may experience weakness in your hand and a tendency to drop objects. This may be due to the numbness in your hand or weakness of the thumb’s pinching muscles, which are controlled by the median nerve.
When to see a doctor
If you have persistent signs and symptoms suggestive of carpal tunnel syndrome, especially if they interfere with your normal activities and sleep patterns, see your doctor. If you leave the condition untreated, permanent nerve and muscle damage can occur.
Useful info and health tips
Lifestyle and home remedies
These steps may help you gain at least temporary relief from your symptoms:
- Take quick breaks from repetitive activities involving the use of your hands.
- Rotate your wrists and stretch your palms and fingers.
- Take a pain reliever, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Wear a wrist splint at night. Wrist splints are generally available over-the-counter at most drugstores or pharmacies. The splint should be snug but not tight.
- Avoid sleeping on your hands to help ease the pain or numbness in your wrists and hands.
If pain, numbness or weakness recurs and persists, see your doctor.