Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the arms, wrists and hands. It occurs when the nerve that goes from the forearm to the palm of the hand (carpal tunnel) is squeezed or pinched at the wrist. The wrist and hand may become painful, weak or numb, and these sensations may travel up the arm. Women are three times more likely than men to have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops over time. People may feel burning, tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers. The fingers may feel numb and swollen, even if they’re aren’t really swollen. Untreated, people with carpal tunnel syndrome may lose grip strength and feeling in the finger tips.
When pressure is applied over time to the nerves and tendons of the carpal tunnel, carpal tunnel syndrome can occur. Injuries and trauma to the wrist, like a sprain or break, also can trigger the condition. Some inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, can be contributing factors. Sometimes doctors can’t identify a cause.
Often people ignore the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome for too long. This can lead to permanent damage to the nerve. It is important to see a doctor right away. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and take a medical history. Lab tests and x-rays may be used to help identify fractures or related conditions, like arthritis.
The physical exam will include a Tinel test, which applies pressure to the nerve in the wrist, and a Phalen test, which measures the flexibility of the wrist. The doctor may require electrodiagnostic or imaging scans to help pinpoint a diagnosis.
Resting the wrist and immobilizing it with a splint are often the first steps in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Applying ice packs can help reduce swelling. Medications may be used to ease pain and reduce swelling of the carpal tunnel.
Surgery is a common treatment. In fact, carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgeries in the U.S. If symptoms last for more than six months, doctors may recommend a procedure to reduce pressure around the median nerve. These surgeries are often outpatient procedures.
Hand and wrist exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscle and joints are helpful. Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and yoga, may help alleviate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome as well.