Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – we’ve all heard of it, but what exactly does it mean? Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes joint pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and wrist. This happens when the main nerve running from your forearm to your hand, called the median nerve, becomes compressed. The median nerve and several tendons run through a small space in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. This nerve controls movement and feeling in your thumb and first three fingers.
Pressure on the median nerve is usually the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure may come from swelling, or anything else that makes the carpal tunnel in your wrist smaller. As the space becomes smaller, the nerve becomes compressed, and you will start to notice symptoms.
Many things can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Repetitive hand use
- Performing activities with extreme flexion or extension of the hand or wrist
- Pregnancy, or other conditions that cause your body to retain fluid
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Wrist injuries
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are:
- Numbness or tingling in the thumb and first two or three fingers, but likely not your pinky finger
- Pain that wakes you up at night, or is worse in the morning when you wake up
- Pain or tingling that extends up the arm
- Weakness of grip or lack of finger coordination
- Tendency to drop things
Treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- RICE Treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
- Stopping activities that cause pain and resting longer between activities
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help relieve pain and reduce swelling
- Wrist splints to relieve pressure on the median nerve
- Steroid injections
- If nonsurgical treatments do not relieve your pain, carpal tunnel release surgery may be recommended
Most people that have carpal tunnel syndrome will notice that their symptoms gradually worsen over time. The good news is that this condition is very treatable. It is important to be evaluated by your orthopedic surgeon in the early stages to slow or even stop the progression of carpal tunnel syndrome. The sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of preventing long-term damage to your median nerve.