What is carpal tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects more than 3 million Americans each year. Carpal tunnel is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which runs through a small passageway between your forearm and hand. Pressure on the nerve causes a squeezing effect that results in annoying and uncomfortable sensations in the hand. The median nerve signals affect feeling in the hand as well as motor function in the muscles around the base of the thumb. A wrist fracture may also narrow the carpal tunnel and cause signs and symptoms. Women, obese people and patients with rheumatoid arthritis may be at a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Individuals in certain work environments, like those who frequently use a keyboard, mouse, cash register, or writing utensil may be susceptible, as well.
How to tell if you have carpal tunnel
- Limited range of motion in the large fingers of the hand and thumb
- Tingling or numbing sensation in the hand or fingers, or an electric tingling sensation that travels from your wrist up your forearm
- Inability to grasp small objects, or weakness that makes it difficult to hold onto objects after they’re grasped
How to diagnose carpal tunnel
A hand surgeon may perform a physical examination, discuss your symptoms with you or order X-ray imaging or an EMG to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome.
How is carpal tunnel treated?
Over-the-counter medication may be prescribed to relieve pain or inflammation associated with carpal tunnel. Hand therapy from a physical therapist who specializes in treating conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome may be of benefit. A therapist can also instruct behavior modification at home and at work to alleviate symptoms. Your physician may also splint the wrist of the affected hand to relieve symptoms periodically throughout the day. In some cases, surgery may also be necessary to release the pressure on the nerve.