The carpal tunnel is the area in your wrist where the median nerve enters the hand. If this nerve gets pinched or experiences excessive pressure, then pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the hand and fingers can result. This is called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by making repeated motions with your hand and wrist. Typing on a computer or repeating movements while working, playing a musical instrument or playing sports may cause tendinitis or bursitis in the hand. This can narrow the carpal tunnel and lead to symptoms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs most often in people ages 30 to 60. It is more common in women than men. Some people develop carpal tunnel syndrome simply because they have a small carpal tunnel.
Other factors that may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Alcohol use
- Fractures and arthritis of the wrist
- Having a tumor or cyst in the wrist
- Fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disfunction
You may have carpal tunnel syndrome if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Pain in your wrist or hand
- Weakness in your hand
- Clumsiness of the hand when gripping objects
- Numbness or tingling in the thumb, next two or three fingers or palm of your hand
- Pain that extends to the elbow
Detection and Diagnosis
An orthopedic surgeon at Valley Care Clinics can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome by reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam of your hand, wrist, shoulder and neck to check for anything that may be causing pressure on the nerve. X-rays may be ordered to rule out other problems. Other tests may include nerve conduction velocity to measure how fast electrical signals are moving through the nerve, and electromyography to check muscles and the nerves that control them.
Treating carpal tunnel syndrome depends on how severe the symptoms are. There are many nonsurgical options including:
- Medications to relieve pain and swelling such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Corticosteroid injections into the carpal tunnel to relieve symptoms
- Wearing a splint at night to immobilize the wrist
- Placing warm and cold compresses on the affected area
- Using special devices to relieve pressure on the wrist such as keyboards, computer mouse and cushioned mouse pads
- Occupational therapy
If the damage to the median nerve is severe, you may require carpal tunnel release surgery. During this procedure, the surgeon will cut into the ligament that is pressing on the nerve to relieve the pressure.