What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects 3-6% of adults in America. It is characterized by numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and arm.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located in the wrist that is about an inch wide. The floor and sides of the tunnel are made up of small wrist bones called carpal bones. The roof of the tunnel is formed by a strong band of connective tissue called the transverse carpal ligament. This tunnel protects one of the main nerves in your hand, called the median nerve, as well as the nine tendons that bend your fingers. When your tunnel is compressed or swells, that puts pressure on the median nerve which produces numbness, tingling and, eventually, hand weakness.
What are the symptoms?
Usually, carpal tunnel syndrome starts with gradual numbness or tingling in your thumb, index, or middle fingers that may come and go. Next, you may experience discomfort in your wrist and hand. The most common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include tingling or numbness in your fingers or hands. This sensation can occur when you’re holding your phone, a newspaper, steering wheel, or just waking up from sleep. Sometimes, the symptoms can extend to your arm. Often, people try to “shake out” their hands to relieve the symptoms but as the condition progresses, the numbing sensation rarely goes away.
Eventually, patients with carpal tunnel syndrome experience hand weakness. It may become difficult to hold onto objects because of the weakness in your thumb’s pinching muscles, which are controlled by the median nerve.
What are the causes?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is irritated, compressed, or squeezed. This can come from pregnancy or illnesses such as hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes. It can also be caused by repetitive hand or wrist movements, especially when your wrist is bent down and your hands are lower than your wrists, such as when you’re typing on a keyboard.
What can I do to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?
To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to maintain your basic health. Stay at a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and exercise to keep your muscles strong and flexible. If you have long-term health issues, such as arthritis or diabetes, follow your doctor’s advice for maintaining your condition.
A few tips to taking good care of your wrists and hands are:
- 1. Keep your wrist in a neutral, unbent position.
- 2. Use your whole hand when holding objects and avoid using just your fingers. .
- 3. When typing, keep your wrists straight. Elevate your hands a little higher than your wrists and relax your arms at your sides.
- 4. Try to switch hands as often as you can during repetitive movements.
I think I have carpal tunnel syndrome…what do I do?
If you experience problems with all your fingers except for the little finger, this may be a sign you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Patients often first notice symptoms at night. Getting treatment early on can prevent long-term damage to your nerve. Your doctor may ask you about your daily routine and any recent activities that may have hurt your wrist. After checking the feeling, strength, and appearance of your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, your doctor may suggest blood or nerve tests that can diagnose the condition. Depending on the severity, your doctor may recommend medicine or surgery, if the symptoms are so bad.
We can help
Dr. Teri Formanek specializes in hand surgery and treatment. He received his medical degree from University of Iowa and is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery with a certificate of added qualifications in hand surgery.
Dr. Gregory Yanish specializes in hand, forearm, and elbow surgery. He received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine and is board certified in general surgery and Surgery of the Hand. Dr. Yanish also specializes in minimally invasive surgery including endoscopic carpal tunnel release, endoscopic cubital tunnel release, Tenex fast procedure for tennis elbow, and PRP injections.