Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed while traveling through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway made of bones and ligaments in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is intended to provide protection for the median nerve and tendons that pass through it. The median nerve is responsible for movement and sensation for parts of the hand, so irritation from compression can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and wrist.

What causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel can be caused by several factors. These include genetics, repetitive and prolonged hand use, injuries, and other medical conditions. Genetics may be a factor if smaller carpal tunnels are present in the patient's family history. Repetitive hand use, like use of vibrating machinery or bending of the hands, for long periods can also cause compression. Injuries to the wrist, like fractures, sprains or other kinds of trauma, can cause swelling or compression. Medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction or the development of tumors or cysts within the carpal tunnel can also compress the median nerve.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include numbness and tingling on the palm side of the hand, fingers, and thumb. Pain or a burning sensation in the forearm, wrist, or hand that increases with activity may also be present. Weakness may also occur, as the muscles around the thumb will shrink and lose strength over time, resulting in trouble forming a fist or grasping objects. To diagnose this condition, your doctor will go over your medical history and perform a physical exam. Tests like X-rays or other imaging studies may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome treated?

If another condition is contributing to the carpal tunnel syndrome, like arthritis or diabetes, that underlying condition must be treated first. Carpal tunnel syndrome is treated at first with conservative treatments like rest, changes in patterns of use, immobilizing the affected area with devices like splints or braces, physical therapy, medication and injections. If the symptoms do not improve after some time, your doctor may suggest a surgical procedure to relieve compression.

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