Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the median nerve is squeezed (compressed) as it passes through the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is an opening in your wrist that is formed by the carpal bones on the bottom of the wrist and the transverse carpal ligament across the top of the wrist. The median nerve provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and 3 middle fingers. If it gets compressed or irritated, you may have symptoms.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?

These are the most common symptoms:

  • Weakness when gripping objects with one or both hands
  • Pain or numbness in one or both hands
  • "Pins and needles" feeling in the fingers
  • Swollen feeling in the fingers
  • Burning or tingling in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers
  • Pain or numbness that is worse at night, interrupting sleep

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may seem like other health conditions or problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

Your provider will check your health history and give you a physical exam. He or she may advise electrodiagnostic tests on your nerves. These tests are the best way to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome. Electrodiagnostic tests stimulate the muscles and nerves in your hand to see how well they work.

How is carpal tunnel syndrome treated?

Your healthcare provider will discuss different treatment options with you. Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Splinting your hand. This helps keep your wrist from moving. It also eases the compression of the nerves inside the tunnel.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines. These are taken by mouth (oral) or injected into the carpal tunnel space. These ease the swelling.
  • Worksite changes. Changing position of your computer keyboard or making other ergonomic changes can help ease symptoms.
  • Exercise. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help when your symptoms are better. A physical or occupational therapist may watch you do the exercises.
  • Surgery. You may need surgery if the condition doesn’t get better with other treatments or go away on its own. This surgery is called carpal tunnel release. This eases compression on the nerves in the carpal tunnel.
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