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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Facts, Symptoms, and When to See a Doctor

July 14, 2021

The carpal tunnel is a narrow pathway surrounded by ligaments and bones on the under side of your hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there is pressure on the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel from your forearm to your hand. This nerve provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb and fingers, excluding the little finger. It also provides nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of your thumb, helping with motor function.

When something squeezes the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, it can cause irritation, swelling, and create issues. Often, there isn’t one single cause of carpal tunnel syndrome but instead a combination of risk factors contributing to the development of the condition. However, health problems and repetitive hand movements can contribute to experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome. Studies also show that women and older people are more likely to develop the condition.

Usually starting gradually, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness, tingling, shock-like sensations, or weakness affecting the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. These sensations may travel up your arm and are often noticed while holding something for a prolonged period of time like a steering wheel, phone, or book. Experiencing symptoms at night is often common due to people often sleeping with their wrists bent. The feeling of weakness may cause people to drop objects. This is due to the weakness of the thumb’s pinching muscles, which are also controlled by the median nerve.

To relieve caused pain, some people find that “shaking out” their hands briefly helps, however the pain or numb feelings may become more frequent and eventually constant over time. These symptoms may also wake you from sleep, interrupting good sleep patterns.

To reduce the chance of getting carpal tunnel syndrome, there are many methods you can use to minimize stress on your hands and wrists. These include, reducing force and relaxing your grip, taking short and frequent breaks when completing tasks, watching your form and improving posture, changing your computer mouse, and keeping your hands warm.

When normal activities and sleep patterns become interfered, it is time to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will look into your history of symptoms, as well as do a physical exam if you fear you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. They may also decide x-rays, an electromyography, or a nerve conduction study is necessary.

It is important to treat carpal tunnel syndrome as early as possible since there are simple things you can do to make the problem go away while in the early stages. These simple actions include taking more frequent breaks to give your hands a rest, avoid activities that make symptoms worse, and apply a cold pack to reduce any swelling.

Other nonsurgical therapy options include wrist splinting and medications. Alternative options like yoga to help strengthen, stretch, and balance the body or hand therapy may reduce symptoms as well in some patients. Proper treatment typically relieves the tingling and numbness and restores hand and wrist function.

If pressure on the median nerve continues, it can lead to nerve damage and worsening symptoms. When symptoms are severe or don’t respond to treatments, surgery may be appropriate.

If you have concerns or think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, request an appointment with one of our hand and wrist specialists: https://www.oaduluth.com/hand-and-wrist-specialists.php.